Théatre Français brings “biographical fiction” play to the Toronto Stage
It’s tempting to leave everything behind, but what happens when you come back? Le long voyage de Pierre-Guy B by Théatre Français de Toronto, playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre, is a poignant and hilarious personal journey where you are who you are, whether at home or far away.
Described as “biographical fiction,” Le long voyage de Pierre-Guy B tells Pierre-Guy Blanchard’s story of travelling the world and returning to his hometown of Charlo, New Brunswick. At the same time, his friend Christian Essiambre heads out to Charlo in order to reconnect with his friend and ask him to play at his wedding.
As both an autobiographical work and a dramatization of a friendship between two men, both of whom are growing older and maturing, Le long voyage de Pierre-Guy B runs the risk of being a collection of clichés. Luckily, it’s a fantastic night at the theatre that was fun, unexpected, and one hundred percent worth it.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect play. But what I saw as weaknesses stemmed primarily from my expectations and my own personal narrative biases.
Let’s start with the music. Blanchard does some incredible drumming and xylophone playing, but I went in expecting more direct musical involvement. Just be aware that although the show is definitely about and influenced by Blanchard’s music, it’s not as central as might be expected.
I also felt that tightening some of the narrative might have made the show much smoother in certain sections. For instance, some of the earlier scenes between Christian and his wife and family, or a few scenes with Pierre-Guy B’s mother didn’t feel necessary to me. They were great in delivery and I would be sad to see them go, but considering there’s a lot packed into an hour and a half, sometimes good bits need to give way to benefit the play as a whole.
But let’s face it, with the charming duo of Essiembre and Blanchard, there’s an unending amount of great material. Not only do these guys have perfect chemistry, but their comedic timing is a thing of beauty. The entire audience, myself included, was laughing hysterically throughout. Between Blanchard’s breakdown about club music and higher education and Essiambre’s opening blackout monologue I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the house.
Their delivery was so human, never trying to make their words more than what they were. The point of Pierre-Guy B is his struggle to explain experiences that aren’t easily expressed out loud. We can’t always understand or express who, what, when, where, and why. In fact, it’s the ability to accept the limitations of words, words that can sometimes be bridged by music, that stands as the emotional core of the story.
This is where the play really stands out: it refuses to be maudlin despite its heavier material. Instead, Blanchard, Essiambre, and director Philippe Soldevika emphasize a stripped down, naturalistic approach. The dialogue is simple, witty, and often interrupted by the actors themselves. Sometimes the words fade into hilariously improvised movements, such as air-instruments, that are just as clear in what its explaining. I was watching two friends relaxing with each other: frustrated at times, even distant, but always intimately connected.
Le long voyage de Pierre-Guy B is refreshingly genuine. It doesn’t try to change the world but takes a personal story and makes it matter to a theatre full of strangers.
- Le long voyage de Pierre-Guy B runs until November 1st at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.)
- Shows run Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday Oct. 31st at 3:30pm and Sunday, November 1st at 2:30pm
- Tickets range from $34.00-$49.00 general admission; $29.00 to $42.00 for seniors (65+); $30.00 for under 30; $20 Rush tickets are available Saturday one hour before show time
- Tickets can be purchased online here, by phone at (416) 534-6604 or 1-800-819-4981, or at the Berkeley Street Theatre box office one hour before show
- Shows with English subtitles are Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 3:30pm
Photo of Pierre-Guy Blanchard and Christian Essiambre courtesy Gilles Landry