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Gazette (Montreal)

January 21, 1990

Powerful acting lifts Un Oiseau above torrid but murky script

PAT DONNELLY

Un Oiseau vivant dans la guele by Jeanne-Mance Delisle, directed by Brigitte Haentjens. At Theatre de Quat'Sous, 100 Pine Ave. E., until Feb. 10.

There are some plays that shouldn't work but do anyway. Jeanne-Mance Delisle's Un oiseau vivant dans la guele (A Live Bird in the Mouth) rides a fine line between turgid and tragic. The characters in this torrid bisexual tango are paper-thin, overwrought and overwritten. The bird symbolism is done to death. Narrative is scattered to the winds, the dialogue lacks the ring of real conversation and monologues turn into marathons. Most of the time the audience is deliberately left in the dark - guessing. When Un Oiseau last played in Montreal, during the 1987 Festival of the Americas, it received lukewarm response. One critic compared its random layers of fantasy and reality to a peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwich. Then it won out over Michel Tremblay's Le Vrai Monde? for that season's Governor General's Award, causing a gasp of disbelief.

Was the win indicative of the growing power of feminism or simply the usual literature-over-theatre bias associated with such awards?

Tremblay is a dialogue man. Every word he writes begs to be played. Delisle's strength - like that of Irish poet W. B. Yeats - lies in the detached beauty of her poetry.

Thanks to Pierre Bernard, artistic director of Theatre de Quat'Sous, Un Oiseau has been given a second chance to bloom on stage. But the current production, directed by Brigitte Haentjens, doesn't fully answer questions about the merits of the writing. It is so powerfully acted and beautifully staged that the script is propelled beyond itself.

A lesser talent than Paule Baillargeon, as the tormented Helene, might have have substituted melodrama for taut passion. Baillargeon carves unforgettable moments out of the air. Helene is in the process of writing a play. She has built a myth about a mother, a father, two sons, a princess of glass and a tree of immortality. The men are expected to act it out.

They revolve around her and eventually do battle - with axes - in front of her. But the bond between them is stronger than the pull of women and words.

Luc Picard's portrayal of her lover, Xavier, nails bisexual ambivalence to the wall. Roy Dupuis never flags in his energy or lets down his macho guard as Adrien, Xavier's lumberjack brother and lover.

The piece has a strong sense of its own style and a consistent tone from beginning to end. The performers work at a high and very physical pitch.

They bang the walls of the grey box set furnished only with a chair, a table and finally a mirror. They strut and stamp their feet like flamenco dancers. (It's no surprise to learn that Delisle is an admirer of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca). And there's a palpable three-way chemistry between them.

One particularly steamy scene does for bread dough what Marlon Brando and The Last Tango in Paris did for butter.

But Delisle's studied obscurity hangs over the passionate intensity like smoke over fire. Clarity is the sacrificial victim on the spit.

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