2018 Progress Review: Dis Merci (Joe Jack et John, curated by Volcano)

Dis Merci, currently playing at The Theatre Centre as part of the Progress Festival, is a Joe Jack et John production, curated by Volcano Theatre. Several neighbours in Quebec prepare to welcome a Syrian refugee family into their neighbourhood, but as they plan the celebration, their unique prejudices and collective dysfunction complicate their very best of intentions. 

Incorporating many artistic disciplines from dance to clowning, there is an abundance of visual stimuli. Most bits are played for humour yet there is an underlying point to every goofy, awkward, absurd vignette. Some moments are more explicit in their meaning, but many segments invite the audience to glean meaning through active distillation. You must focus your attention and discern what is really happening between people.

The performers, dressed in vividly contrasting bright colours and divergent styles, represent various reactions to and experiences of displacement. Some moments are more resonant than others, but the show never ceases to provide rich fodder for contemplation.

Consider this: a white, middle-class, straight male explaining the burden of his privilege, that he was born into a circumstance in which his perspective/situation is now no longer considered relevant juxtaposed with a portrait of a black man explaining that the single most important piece of advice he received upon entering Canada—after escaping the threat of a violent homeland—was not to seem like a “bad black man,” to always smile, defer, capitulate.

It’s rare to see people with disabilities represented on stage without it somehow becoming a talking point. I was happy to see this company’s decision to, rather than pander, actively normalize such representation.

By the end, the stage is festooned with balloons, party favours and a large inflated animal that, in a particularly clever joke, remains unacknowledged. These are the colourful, messy remains of people learning to make room for others in a space they have possessed and taken for granted.

Marc Barakat, Dany Boudreault, Emma-Kate Guimond and Ally Ntumba are a playful ensemble. Under the direction of Catherine Bourgeois, they deftly convey the weighty subtext that lies under even the silliest of antics. And I’ve never before seen such fluid and graceful use of an La-Z-Boy armchair.

This was not one of the easiest shows for me to invest in. It does, on  several levels, require a lot of its audience. However, as I settled into the feel and intent of the show, I found it honest and compelling. Dis Merci, like the other content I’ve seen at Progress, feels intensely relevant, inclusive and exploratory.


  • Dis Merci plays until February 17, 2018 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
  • Performances times vary: see schedule on show page
  • Tickets are $25
  • Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416.538.0988 or online

Photo of Emma-Kate Guimond by Frederique Menard Aubin.