Les Belles Soeurs was a revolutionary play when it was written in 1965 by Michel Tremblay. Now more than 50 years later, the story of Quebecois middle-class lives on in the latest production from University Players, which runs through this weekend at Essex Hall at the University of Windsor.
Although many of the concepts and ideals in the play are quite passé now (hey, did you like that use of an accent aigu), it’s an interesting journey to a time when religion was central to life in La Belle Province and women were mostly left home to take care of the house and children, while then men worked hard at their job every day. This show is shown from the perspective of the women and consists of an all-female cast.
For me, the show brought back a ton of memories of my French family members gathering around the kitchen table in an average home in an average small New Brunswick town. The women were always boisterous, gossiped like mad and constantly served food and pop. Interesting, the brilliant costuming in the show from Agatha Knelsen really made it feel like I was looking at my aunts run around in their hip dresses of the day.
The 15-member cast was loaded with personality and the acting was brilliant, despite the seriously heavy topics it handled at times. The show is also extremely funny and the actors strike a perfect balance between honestly portraying their characters’ struggles and allowing humour to shine through their performances – notably in sequences about watching TV every night and the excitement of getting together for BINGO.
The play revolves around Germaine Lauzon (portrayed perfectly by Áine Donnelly) who has had the good fortune to win one million trading stamps that could be pasted into booklets and exchanged for all manner of household goods. To facilitate the process of getting the stamps in the booklets, she calls upon her relatives, neighbors, friends and daughter to help. The result is an evening of gossip that progresses into total chaos as the group of ladies all attempt to steal Germaine’s stamps throughout the evening.
The actresses were amazing in this show and the costuming was right on the money, but at no fault to them, we left feeling as though we were stuck in some sort of odd and extremely outdated time shift when women were treated with much less respect than they are today. Thankfully the funny moments helped break up the absurdity and nonsense of the time, but it also seemed as though the humour was written into the show to help cover up the issues as soon as they popped up.
It might have been an important and powerful play in its day with the use of humour to help bring the issues to the forefront, but in 2018 it seemed a little contrived and seemed to push the issues aside in this production. A musical version of the show was created in 2010 with an updated script and reduced characters – it might have been a better choice and a little fresher a show. They certainly won’t have that problem when they stage Brad Fraser’s edgy Love and Human Remains in March.
Les Belles Soeurs plays this weekend at Essex Hall with evening performances tonight (Feb. 9) and Saturday (Feb. 10), as well as a Sunday (Feb.11) matinee.