Although I do not consider myself to be bilingual, I absolutely love attending theatre in French. Mostly, I think because of the challenge of submerging myself completely into the world of my second language and of how having to work so diligently to follow the narrative changes my relationship to the performances and how reliant I become on the director and the actors to help clarify the story. French is also such an inherently poetic language that I find opportunities to immerse myself in it irresistible. So, it was in this way that I traipsed off to Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace for a Francophone production of Carole Fréchette’s play Jean et Béatrice as part of the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival.
High on the 33rd floor of an office building, Béatrice has placed an advertisement seeking a man who will interest, move and seduce her. She finds Jean, a trickster intent on winning her games and being financially rewarded for his efforts. What follows is a really interesting power struggle, like a tug-of-war, as Jean plays his hand creatively, driven fixatedly on the reward he has been promised, and Béatrice becomes lost in a fantasy world where Jean will ultimately save her.
Jean and Béatrice are both established as being manipulative liars who keep one another at a safe distance, but it is compelling to watch them both penetrate, if only briefly, through these walls and to catch a glimpse at the other’s vulnerability. Jean plays with narrative, as his stories sometimes blur reality and fantasy, and Béatrice finds herself losing control over her reactions and even her immediate safety.
Serge Paul plays Jean with strength and charm, although I thought he could have had more fun in the creation of his puppet show. Annabelle Torsein plays Béatrice with great intensity and she propels herself between unbridled passion and complete apathy like a yoyo. The production did not have the gritty emotional power that I think a professional production would have, but I was certainly drawn into the story and intrigued by the characters. I think it’s fantastic that there is a play being produced in French in the Fringe Festival here in Toronto, and that if you have the opportunity to see a play in its native language, you may find that the experience is enriched in a way that is rare because part of the essence of the work always gets lost in translation.
Jean et Béatrice plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) Sunday, July 11th at 2:15pm. all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.