Americandream.ca by Theatre la Tangente begins on an empty stage at the Glendon Theatre at the York University campus. The stage is surrounded by three white walls. Music begins and panels of the walls open up like doors. Actors walk from the darkness and onto the stage, their shadows plastered on the white panels. Their entrances are mysterious, giving the audience the work to figure out the context of the scene through images and videos rippling against the walls. It’s a confusing start, but it kept me waiting to find the other pieces to the puzzle.
Americandream.ca is an original work by playwright, co-director, and co-set designer Claude Guilmain. Guilmain blends language, character and art forms to create a unique experience. The constant transition between subject, style, and language gave me the strange feeling that I was missing something. The show was complete, but the variety of transitions prevented it from being fleshed out. I wanted more from the characters and their stories. I knew that I was only getting a taste of them, and that it was probably best that I went a little hungry.
It doesn’t help that I only saw Part 2: Pax Americana. I hadn’t seen Part 1: Malaises, to get the full story. Even my full night of the show was fragmented. In Americandream.ca, we encounter the Cardinal family trying to deal with individual tragedies. The family is made up of the adult siblings Alain, Claude, and Maude, along with Alain’s wife Pat and Maude’s two daughters Brigitte and Emilie. While the characters reach out for support, they simultaneously reject family interference. They long for comfort, while pushing away any possibility of receiving it. In the background, the tale of the mysterious disappearance of their grandfather unfolds, showing that secrets run deep in the Cardinal family.
The family dynamic was shown well. The character portrayals of Sasha Dominique as Pat, Magali Lemele as Brigitte, Pier Paquette as Alain, and Bernard Meney as Claude were excellent. Performances of Maude by Louise Naubert and Emilie by Annie Richer were particularly heart-breaking. There was an animosity and guardedness with each character. I could sense that they all knew how to get under each other’s skin. They also showed love in an honest, subdued way. Their dynamic felt natural and almost tired, like a family that has been through enough.
The Cardinal family is full of secrets and private trauma. These secrets aren’t revealed like in a mystery or detective story. Instead, secrets are sometimes discovered, sometimes suspected, and other times not even talked about. I found the dynamic to be very much like a real family. The secrets weren’t necessarily unraveled for the audience, because each secret contained another element that tangled the story up all over again. Like with a real family, sometimes all I could do was shrug and think of the only explanation: “It’s complicated.”
Even though the show is complicated, it was still incredibly compelling. It had a sharp sense of humour that cut through a lot of the seriousness. My favourite example of this is when Maude, played by the fantastic co-director and actor Louise Naubert, made light of having to buy nipples, since she had reconstructive surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Another compelling element of the show was the creative multi-media. Videos and images ran along the white background. Sounds and music throbbed in the theatre. The lighting design by Guillaume Houet-Brisebois, visual effects by Duncan Appleton, and soundscape by Claude Naubert added to the vitality and meaning of the play. The background videos and images were very pointed, whether it was a rolling list of arrivals in an airport or TV static. They emphasized the emotional state of character, whether it was Brigitte’s fear of the government being shown with video camera recordings following her every move, or Emilie’s trauma with visions from the war.
One difficulty I had was with the translation. This is a bilingual play, although the characters mostly speak in French. My grasp on French is fair, but I didn’t want to risk missing parts of the play due to overconfidence in my abilities. My guest and I were given small radios to hold up to our ears to hear the English translations. The translators were a little behind the actors and hesitant at times. I appreciated the effort and still enjoyed the show, but I think someone who was comfortably bilingual would have an easier experience.
The show was interesting, visually compelling, and well-acted. It was a challenge to watch, but it’s a challenge worth rising up to. I would recommend anyone (bilingual or not) go see this show while you still can.
- Americandream.ca is playing at Glendon Theatre, at York University’s Glendon Campus (2275 Bayview)
- Performances are going until Saturday September 5th. Parts 1 & 2 are playing at 6pm. Saturday’s performance will be followed by a panel discussion.
- Tickets are $49.95 at regular price, while students/seniors/arts workers can have discounted tickets for $34.95. Tickets can be purchased online.
- Photo credit: Josée Duranleau Pictured: Magali Lemele with cast