English play in Quebec City challenges Francophone spectators

A Quebec City theatre is ignoring the criticism of a play it’s putting on this month to challenge the public. The main actor studied for 11 months to be able to do the play in his second language.

That’s because the play is written and performed in English even though many season ticket holders won’t be able to understand the whole thing.

Jack Robitaille has been an actor in Quebec City for more than 40 years, but he says this play — The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, unleashed a persona he didn’t know he was capable of.

“I worked really hard, really hard,” Robitaille said. “It gave me a character. I was really something else.”

The Francophone actor spent one to two hours a day, seven days a week, for almost a year, learning his lines in English. Similarly, his character is a Francophone who has lost his ability to speak French.

“After years of silence resulting from a trauma, Gaston Talbot from Chicoutimi, wakes up from a strange dream to discover he has lost his mother tongue,” La Bordée Theatre describes in the play brochure. “In an English that is syntactically contaminated by French, he gives an account of his life and this dream where he transforms into a dragonfly and flies off above his hometown.”

Robitaille said the play is like a set of Russian dolls:

“A little doll, in a bigger doll, in a bigger doll, in a bigger doll — it’s written like that,” he said.

Written in 1995, Francophone playwright Larry Tremblay was inspired by the referendum and the tension between Quebec Francophones and Anglophones.

“It’s a warning about the dangers of losing French,” Robitaille said.

Robitaille said the play is meant to challenge spectators in their second language. However, he says some of them don’t like that challenge and were angry because they didn’t understand much of what was said.

He said some even tried to prevent La Bordée Theatre from producing the play.

“Of course, it’s an effort. The public has to make an effort,” Robitaille said.

He added that most people who do make that effort are happy they came, “happy to be disturbed.”

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