United Players

The Impromptu of Outremont
By Michel Tremblay Translated by John van Burek

Dates 6 – 29 April 2007 Venue Jericho Arts Centre Reviewer Jane Penistan

Michel Tremblay’s The Impromptu of Outremont has echoes of Chekhov in its portrayal of the Beaugrand sisters of Outremont. Four sisters are left behind in the changing social scene of Montreal. Brought up by their society conscious mother, the four girls were groomed to be child prodigies to perform for their mother’s friends. A pianist, a dancer, a singer and a writer, the four talented girls were shown off. The suggestion that further training, to develop the talents of the children and possibly lead to professional careers, horrified their aristocratically aspiring mother.

The play is the occasion of the youngest sister Lucille’s (Cherise Clarke) fortieth birthday. Lucille and her sister Yvette (Tanya Huse) still live in the house which was the family home. The parents are dead and the other two sisters are married and live in the near by in Montreal.

A spacious living room with a large curtained window in the upstage wall is furnished with dated, elegant furniture. The horseshoe shaped acting area is defined by prints from old photograph albums set into the floor. The lighting is subdued most of the time by the obscuring curtains shutting out the daylight and the environment.

First to arrive for the birthday party is Fernande (Jane Noble), the eldest sister, married to a none too successful architect. Enter the other sister, Lorraine (Rachel Robillard), the disgrace of the family, because, as her outraged mother said, she ”gave up the piano for the mandolin”, by marrying an Italian jobbing gardener.

Before the visitors arrive there is teasing and nervous tension, between the sisters. This tension is exacerbated by the arrival of the carping, humourless, bossy Fernande, but somewhat alleviated by the taunting, flamboyant but affectionate Lorraine who is deliberately offensive as a working class wife. The gift which each sister brings demonstrates her attitude to her sisters.

What the frustration of not pursuing her talent has done to the women becomes apparent as the action proceeds, but this is also partly dictated by each individual personality. Lucille early perceives that she will never realize her ambition to become a dancer, so gives up trying. Yvette continually listens to recorded opera, immersing herself in dreams of what might have been. Fernande emulates her late mother by holding onto the shreds of her elegant upbringing. She has smothered her talent even more than her sisters have theirs, and sought to compensate this by “keeping up appearances” and trying to run the family as her mother had done, but with considerable parsimony. This is her defence against any outside knowledge of her impecunious circumstances and her inherent meanness. That she has reams of frustrated writing hidden away is known only to herself.

The most generous, outgoing and kind sister is Lorraine, “the one who got away”. She and Fernande will always be at odds, but innate sisterly affection will always be present but kept invisible by Fernande.

The dialogue throughout is full of humour and family repartee, with really funny lines and telling mots justes. Wisdom and insight permeate. The shattered nostalgic finale is a Tremblay masterpiece.

Sarah Rodgers has directed with attention to the disparate but also similar personalities of her four characters. Each is given full rein to develop her role, both by the playwright and by the unerring director. The music and sound are well managed, as is the lighting.
This is a lively, well timed, thought provoking and entertaining production.

© 2007 Jane Penistan