I have to get this off my chest right up front. I skipped out on Nuit Blanche completely and feel kind of frustrated at myself. It was a confluence of factors, mostly that I worked a bit longer than I expect (after the Soulpepper show) so I didn't get back home until 7ish and wasn't ready to head back out until 8:30 (I also had to take the time to help the kids with math homework). It wasn't raining, though it threatened to, and it was very, very windy and just kind of unpleasant. If it was only a 15-20 minute trip downtown, I still would have gone out, but 40+ minutes just seemed to much. If I had just stayed downtown, I would have gone. Once I was there, I probably would have wandered around for a few hours. But I just didn't feel up to it. The flip side is that there was so little buzz about the actual art on view and nothing that really seemed worth venturing out to see that I couldn't be bothered.* Hopefully, the calculus will be a bit different next year (ideally the weather will be better) and I will go.
Anyway, I did make it to the Soulpepper show. The reviews have been generally positive but reserved. Two of the reviews (The Star and Globe and Mail) I think have made too much over the fact that the cast performs the show with Quebecois accents. However, it is true that the director did herself no favours by highlighting this and basically coming out and saying that only the Quebecois can truly understand Tremblay's language. It's the kind of poke in the eye that makes you wonder why Soulpepper would bother with someone who not so secretly is dismissive of their audience. I probably wouldn't see another play directed by her here in Toronto, but I guess it ultimately depends on the circumstances. In general, I think the Globe and Mail review manages to convey what is important about the play -- that Tremblay is showing how Quebec society (prior to the Quiet revolution) was dominated by institutions that made people's lives much worse than they had to be. But this is also the play's weakness, and both reviewers kind of wonder what is the relevance of this play when virtually no one today would stay in such a toxic marriage just because of "The Church." Still, one could definitely ask the same thing about the relevance of any Shakespearean play or Restoration play now that our lives aren't dominated by nobility or women aren't chattel (outside the Middle East at any rate).
But it does feel more like a history lesson than a family that one might encounter among one's acquaintances for instance. And that is clearly part of the reason they both knocked a star of their rating of the play. I can't say I disagree. George Walker (who has been on my mind quite a bit lately) tends to dwell on the same general strata of working class families and their problems, but in addition to the troubles and trauma and yelling, there is always at least some warmth towards each other. The married couple in this play truly hate each other, with the wife telling the husband repeatedly that she can't wait until he goes crazy and is carried off to the mad house so she can have peace and quiet. Oh and she won't have sex with him either, since that is something only sluts and animals do. He confirms that they have had sex roughly 4 times in 20 years. Church or no church, why would one stay in this relationship? This is so far beyond the pale of what I find acceptable or even understandable that it does weaken the play. Where Tremblay largely does succeed is in showing how even pretty unlikable characters have their own motivations and that neither the husband or wife was completely at fault or completely blameless in this loveless marriage. It is the wife's rejection that largely causes the husband to drink (along with frustrations at being a small peon at his machine shop job), which then in turn causes him to lose control when he does come home. The fact that all of their children are unplanned (and largely unwelcomed at least by the husband) certainly doesn't help, and that can be partly blamed on their adherence to Catholic teachings.
I think the most thankless role is given to the daughter, Manon, who sees their father as completely to blame for their horrible childhood (and a life-changing car accident). It is clear that Tremblay wants to show how she remains caught up in a dead faith ten years on and that the rest of society has started to move on and open up (this is represented by her much better balanced sister who sings country western songs in a nearby bar). Tremblay has stacked the deck against Manon and makes her a fairly pathetic and unlikable character. It that sense, it is not hard to see how critics feel that the play is quite dated, since it was written with such an overt political agenda in mind (i.e. to attach the Catholic Church). After seeing both, I have to agree with my friend that Albertine in Five Times is a much better work. I am curious, however, to find out if this family makes an appearance in his Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal.
As I mentioned, I went to work afterwards for a while. Today, I have to finish the groceries, do a bit more work to get ready for Monday, and then make it over to Trinity-St. Paul's for the Tafelmusik concert. Since that is on Bloor, I might try to sell off a few more books at BMV beforehand. The concert starts at 3:30, so I have a bit of time still.
I decided not to submit anything this month for SFYS, so I won't be going Monday, but I have a few notes for something I want to work on for next month. (I had just a bit of a block, but I think I have resolved it (and I may blog about that in a while).) Ideally, I will spend this evening writing out more scenes for a play and blogging, but I suspect that is being a bit too ambitious.
* At least a couple of people said that this year Nuit Blanche was really disappointing and was almost entirely about the crowds of people and not at all about the art. So I don't feel quite as bad about skipping, though I still intend to go next year.
Update (10/6): Well, perhaps I won't go next year after all. There is no question things tend to get a bit out of hand on Queen St. (where last year they didn't run the streetcar in the middle of Nuit Blanche) and even Spadina the crowds were making it very hard to run that streetcar as well. Saturday night the crowds got quite ugly and attacked the police who were trying to get them to disperse from Yonge-Dundas Square. In response, ScotiaBank has decided to yank its funding of Nuit Blanche, which will probably prove to be the death of the event. Even if it somehow manages to go on, the organizers will have to thoroughly rethink this. Probably curtail the hours and avoid areas where people are only interested in hanging out for the sheer novelty of it and couldn't care less about art. The only portion that seemed to work for me was the art walk from Union Station out to Fort York (and probably I should have tried to go out anyway along that path). That did not have the problems associated with the bars on Yonge and/or Richmond and Adelaide.