Ruby Slippers Theatre
Les Belles-soeurs by Michel Tremblay, translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco

Dates and Venue September 27 - October 6, 2018, 8pm nightly (except Sun and Mon); matinees on Sat Sept 29, Sun Sept 30 @ 2pm &Tues , October 2 @ 1pm | Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond

Director Diane Brown Set Design Drew Facey Costume Design Ellen Gu Lighting Design John Webber Sound Design Mishelle Cuttler Movement Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg Technical Director Jeff Harrison Stage Manager Lois Dawson

Reviewer John Jane

Michel Tremblay’s play Les Belles-soeurs (The sisters-in-law), set in the east Montreal in the mid-sixties, was once considered a protest play and still retains elements of dissent. The intended targets were the Catholic Church and who he believed were the Anglophone haut monde.

While the play is a true ensemble piece, it centres on Germaine Lauzon (France Perras) who has hit the jackpot (kind of) in winning one million trading stamps. The stamps have to be painstakingly put in booklets before cashing in for merchandise – a labour-intensive process. To simultaneously get the job done and celebrate her good fortune, Germaine invites relatives, friends and neighbours over to help paste stamps. The party rapidly turns into a gabfest with few filled booklets finding their way back into Germaine’s box. She hardly helps her cause by taking the opportunity to gloat.

This Ruby Slippers production brings together twelve veteran female actors who characterize women of a certain generation who share their joy and their misery of detached husbands, abusive boyfriends, and dull lives. In a couple of scenes in the play that feature hilarious choral dialogue: the women’s day-to-day mundane routine and the enormous delight that BINGO affords these women poignantly illustrate how these women got through the week.

The production under the steady guidance of director Diane Brown, affords several characters a confessional monologue direct to the audience under a spotlight. Kerry Sandomirsky’s heartfelt soliloquy as Angéline Sauvé stood out as particularly poignant.

Apart from the dozen actors in the main roles, emerging talents Pippa Mackie who plays Germaine’s daughter Linda, Agnes Tong who plays the troubled Lise and Daria Banu making her professional debut as Ginette.

Each cast member took a proportional responsibility for the show’s success. Though, I was personally delighted to see a rare on-stage performance by Sarah Rodgers as Lisette, a women who is clearly a single level higher in the social echelon. I would have liked to see more of Emilie Leclerc as black sheep Pierrette on stage.

Drew Facey’s deliberately austere set of Madame Lauzon’s modestly furnished kitchen is reasonably authentic in terms of time and place. The set is notable for a crucifix prominently hung on the wall, once a fixture in Quebec’s working class homes.

After fifty years Les Belles-soeurs has become a compelling period piece. Québécois people, women in particular, have moved forward since Tremblay wrote his telling commentary on what he perceived as his province’s ills – but has the rest of North America?

© 2018 John Jane