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Staged on Salle Fred-Barry from March 3rd to March 26t, 1988

Text : Jean Marc Dalpé
Director : Brigitte Haentjens
Set Designer : Pierre Perrault
Lighting : Claude Cournoyer
Stage Management : Diane Fortin
Artistic Direction : Laurent Bussière
Music : Robert Paquette

 

Cast:
The father : Roger Blay
Jay : Roy Dupuis
The sister : Hèlène Paulin
The mother : Marthe Turgeon
The grandfather : Lionel Villeneuve

 

The urgency of a cry

            Twenty five year old Jay returns to the village of his birth after an absence of seven years. Holding a travel bag and leather jacket in one hand, and a crate of beer in the other, when he sees the mobile home where his father lives he exclaims, “What a shit-hole of a place!” This assessment, which at first raises a laugh, actually encompasses the whole drama that is about to unfold before us. Le Chien, by Jean Marc Dalpé, relates not only the story of a family but also a social history, one of a culture which is threatened, obstructed, cut off from the world, which you feel is suffocated, driven to despair.

 

After drifting all round America, the prodigal son decides to return to the fold, in a small village in the north of Ontario, essentially to make peace with his father. The meeting between the two men forms the central plaque of the play, around which grow the narratives of the mother, the adopted daughter and the grandfather who was buried on the day of Jay’s return. These accounts, inserted into the confrontation between father and son, gradually reveal the reasons that led Jay to run away: the father’s violence, his silence, the complete dead-end of the family and social circumstances. Like a leitmotiv, the hatred, the contempt and the despair for their little self-contained world return constantly in the comments of all the characters. “There’s no construction here. …. Everything’s closed down”, says the father. “I hate everything here. You name it, I hate it,” says the mother. “I hate the trees … I hate the streets … I hate the houses because they all look alike, yeah,… same as the people.” Jay talks about his village as a “hole” into which everyone has sunk, unable to get out. Allusions to the meanness of the villagers, their spitefulness, are numerous. Throughout the play, the drama played out by the protagonists is constantly associated with the physical and social environment in which they live; the whole village is stagnating along with them.

            The reconciliation so hoped for by Jay never happens; when his father claims to have raped his adopted daughter he shoots him, like he slaughtered the mad dog that bayed at the moon. In this crime there is immense despair; Jay has committed the fatal deed not so much to avenge his sister but to kill off the symbol of his own alienation. This murder, however, brings no relief, as Jay cannot eliminate the legacy he carries within him. He can only accomplish his destiny by meeting violence with violence.

            We find in Jean Marc Dalpé’s writing a close link with some American drama, including the plays of Sam Shepard. The strength of this play lies not in its originality but in its authenticity. While he does not avoid completely the clichés of the genre, Dalpé succeeds all the same in stirring the emotions; at certain moments he manages to transcend the limits of the medium by the strength and urgency of his cry. As a spectator one constantly swings between an irritation brought on by the unpleasant sense of déja vu and a fascination for this voice, original in spite of everything, that communicates objectively its fury and distress.

            The production, directed by Brigitte Haentjens, is distinguished by its restraint and by a very strong interpretation behind which one senses a real commitment. Only the character of the grandfather, played by Lionel Villeneuve, seems set apart, like a discordant piece of music in a harmonious score. It is true that his account, poorly integrated with the drama going on between the protagonists, constitutes one of the weakest parts of the text. Roger Blay plays a completely defeated father, a genuine incarnation of failure and decline. His stage entrance, a long silent walk from the background to the fore-stage, was absolutely stunning; all the broken dreams, all the shame, all the alienation of the character was inscribed in his bent frame and ravaged face. Roy Dupuis, made to measure for the role of Jay, played a believable and charming prodigal son. Hélène Paulin and Marthe Turgeon were particularly touching, one for her sensibility, the other for her cynicism and crushing humour. Haentjens has opted for simplicity, putting Dalpé’s text right in the forefront: few movements, the minimum of effects. Far from showing a lack of imagination on the part of the director, this approach demonstrates a deep understanding and respect for the work.

            Whatever reservations one might have towards this type of theatre, one can’t fail to recognise in this first play by Dalpé, the emergence of a conscience, the presence of an artist. One can only wish for a sequel to this discourse, hoping that the murder of the father carried out in Le Chien has been cathartic and the family drama buried along with the father, so that the field is left free for a revitalised dramatic form, aimed at the wider world. 

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