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The Toronto Star

Friday, November 18, 1988

Le Chien's English debut an underwhelming event

By Robert Crew Toronto Star.


When first performed (in French) last year in Montreal, Ottawa and Sudbury, Jean Marc Dalpe's Le Chien had critics reaching for superlatives and comparisons.

The consensus was that a major new playwright had burst on the scene. Names like Michel Tremblay, Sam Shepard, George Ryga, and John Steinbeck were tossed around like confetti.

Sudbury's Theatre du Nouvel-Ontario has now brought the play to Factory Theatre where it made its English-language premiere last night. It's an underwhelming experience.

True, the out-of-kilter characters have a violence that brings Shepard to mind. True, Dalpe is dealing with a troubled father-son relationship, a theme that Tremblay has tackled. But the resemblances are superficial, misleading and unfair to all concerned.

Le Chien is a first play. It is raw, angry and occasionally quite powerful. But it is also messy, unfocussed and overwritten.

Age-old topic

Set in Northern Ontario, Le Chien is about a Franco-Ontarian family. Son Jay (Roy Dupuis) has returned home for a visit after a prolonged absence to reconcile himself with, or to confront his hard-drinking, hard-hitting father (Roger Blay).

Grandfather (Pierre Collin) has just died but is present on stage. So are Jay's unhappy mother (Marthe Turgeon) and adopted sister (Isabelle Vincent). As a mad dog howls offstage and the central core of the story unfolds, the background is filled in by means of a series of flashbacks.

For all its unusual setting, the subject-matter is familiar; basically this is a coming-home play, coupled with the age-old topic of father versus son, of loving the one you hate. The mad dog of the title refers to the father as well as the howling hound. And Jay has to kill both before he can truly escape the chains of family and of place. The pioneering dream that brought families to the north has now died, Dalpe suggests. What's left is a bitter servitude.

This production features the same creative team, headed by director Brigitte Haentjens, and several of the same actors that created the original, French-language version.

Whether it's the translation (by Maureen LaBonte and Dalpe) or the difficulties of performing in a second language, the unrelaxed, unsubtle acting doesn't serve the play well.

People shout a lot. The emotions are overdrawn and have a melodramatic, soap-opera feel. There's some stumbling over words and the timing of the dialogue is not sharp. Audience detached A couple of longish monologues are quite well delivered by Blay and Collin but in the main, the audience remains detached from the sound and fury on stage.

Pierre Perrault's set - a semi-circle of dirt and rocks, the stage sloping upwards to the sky and a trailer at one side - is effective, as are the lighting of Claude Cournoyer and the music of Robert Paquette.

Jean Marc Dalpe is a tough and angry young playwright and may yet prove to be someone special. His vision is stark, his use of language harsh and uncompromising.

But on the evidence of this uninvolving production, Le Chien has more bark than bite.

Le Chien

By Jean Marc Dalpe, translated by Maureen LaBonte and Jean Marc Dalpe. Directed by Brigitte Haentjens. Set and costumes designed by Pierre Perrault. Lighting designed by Claude Cournoyer. Music by Robert Paquette. A Theatre du Nouvel-Ontario production at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., until Dec. 4. 864-9971.

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