Centaur starts the season off with a riveting family drama

Toula Foscolos
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August, An Afternoon in the Country a perfect collaboration of French and English

Watching August, An Afternoon in the Country by Franco-Ontarian playwright Jean Marc Dalpé, at Thursday night’s media premiere, I was reminded of Leo Toltstoy’s words: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Claire Coulter and Eleanor Noble

Beautifully translated by Maureen Labonté, and directed by Harry Standjofski, the Centaur has chosen to kick start its 2012-13 season with a timely, tense, introspective piece, which nevertheless isn’t short on laughter.

The characters, while strangers, are instantly recognizable to us… It’s the sign of a good play, when we sit back and enjoy the easy, unforced banter of people we know we’ve met before.

In a nutshell, this play is about a family reunion gone bad, and as I write this on the eve of a Thanksgiving weekend, I know that more than a few of you are probably cringing at the thought of being in the same room with people you share genes and history with. Familial bonds are delicate territory, fraught with danger zones. Love, dependence, anger, hate, disappointment, and, ultimately, resolution all reside in the same house. In real life, the combination can wreak havoc. In a play, it makes for delicious drama.

Masterfully written by Jean Marc Dalpé, three-time recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award, the play is nuanced and well balanced, with no clear villains, and no clear heroes. Like life, we are all a little of both.

Clare Coulter is hysterical as Paulette, the self-proclaimed “ornery” and prickly octogenarian matriarch who rules the house. She had the audience in stitches on opening night. Danette MacKay reprises her role as the newly-engaged Monique, torn between wanting to be with someone, and wanting to be her own person. Sadly, the play ends without her reaching the conclusion that she can be both.

Pauline Little does a wonderful job of playing the long-suffering and exhausted mother and grandmother, trying to keep it all together, while Eleanor Noble, who I saw years ago in the extraordinary Housekeeping and Homewrecking by Montreal playwright Alexandria Haber, does a good job of communicating the frustration of trying to escape an unhappy relationship.

In real life, the combination can wreak havoc. In a play, it makes for delicious drama.

Pier Kohl plays André, Monique’s well-off, big-city fiancé, who starts off with pleasantries and then goes on and on about how his love for the game of golf helped him deal with his first wife’s death.

While everyone does a commendable job, worth noting is young Arielle Palik, who plays Josée, the 19-year-old high-strung daughter, desperate to escape this small Quebec town and make it big. She’s loud, she’s rude, and she’s adorable, because you can’t help but relate to her exasperation and anger at the dysfunctional family dynamics. It’s a testament to her acting chops that she knows how to toe the line between teenage angst and attitude, without ever crossing it.

Harry Standjofski skilfully directs the stellar cast, while set designer James Lavoie has succeeded in creating a striking farm house. There’s really very little to fault this production, other than the one thing that ran through my mind as the play started. If this play is an adaptation of a French play that takes place in Quebec, why did they have country music from the American south playing? But this is really a small quibble in an otherwise wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable production.

With a start like this, I look forward to what the rest of the Centaur’s 44th season has in store for us.

Performances:

The play runs until Sunday, October 28.

Tuesday to Saturday – 8 p.m., Except Thursday October 25, – 7 p.m.

Saturday - Sunday Matinees- 2 p.m. Except Sunday October 14, - 7 p.m.

For tickets and/or information : www.centaurtheatre.com

Tel: 514-288-3161

Organizations: Centaur Theatre

Geographic location: Quebec, Montreal

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