Ruby Slippers Theatre
Life Savers by Serge Boucher, translated by Shelley Tepperman

Dates and Venue 4 - 19 April 2009, 8pm @ Performance Works | 22 - 25 Apri l2009 @ Shadbolt Centre for the Arts

Director Diane Brown Set Design David Roberts Costume Design Sheila White Lighting Itai Erdal Sound Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe Stage Manager Raelynne Gagnon

Reviewer Jane Penistan

“A life affirming comedy about death”. Is this an oxymoron? This English translation world premiere certainly has lots of laughs delivered by various characters, but whether it’s a comedy is debatable. Maybe a black comedy.

France, a manic-depressive, and a younger daughter, is in prison for a murder she cannot remember. Her family tries to come to terms with this and try to be supportive, each in his or her own way. But are they really trying to support France, or is each one trying to find self support? This is the question. The exception to this behaviour is that of Lucienne, France’s grandmother. There is a really affectionate and affecting relationship between these two.

The action of the play takes place in prisons and in the urban household of Robert and Raymonde. Prison is played on a raised platform upstage, while the main stage is the living room of the comfortably off home of Raymonde beautifully played by Patti Allan, and her husband, the self satisfied and outrageously insensitive Robert (Kevin McNulty). On this backdrop are films of what is happening in the kitchen, while others in the cast are onstage in the main room.

France is the daughter of Robert and Raymonde. Clearly a manic-depressive and suffering from amnesia, so that she does not remember committing the murder of which she is accused and therefore imprisoned. Colleen Wheeler’s France is exceptional in the mood swings and deeply felt inadequacy as a person. Her inability to arouse sympathy from her family and her hopelessness are heartbreaking while her sudden violence is frightening in its intensity. Her short scene with her grandmother Lucienne (Wendy Morrow Donaldson), is touching and beautiful.

As the elder sister, Brigitte (Naomi Wright), is the daughter who did everything correctly in the eyes of her family. She was the ideal daughter while growing up, married a suitable, successful, kind and gentle husband (Mike Wasko), and now enjoys a social standing and prides herself on her housekeeping and her two perfect children who are heard about, but never seen; nor are they allowed to see their aunt, France.
The scenes of France’s visits to her family are tense and fraught as are the family’s individual visits to France, in prison. When France‘s memory returns with its full horror, she endeavours to confide in Brigitte, but like the rest of her immediate family, Brigitte is too self centred and self satisfied to understand her agony.

At her homecoming after being moved to a rehabilitation centre and later, when she will be free again, it becomes clear that France will be shut away, out of sight, and out of mind. Her sister, and parents cannot move out of their mind set and their way of life. Even the nightmare horror of 9/11 cannot change their closed minds to anything that does not fit in with their established way of life. What future will there be for France?
Being used to finding her own way and knowing she will not disgrace her family again, as she has shown throughout the play, perhaps she will be able to live again. Hope springs eternal.

This tragic play is well directed and well acted. The scenery and props are all suitable and appropriate. The projections on the backdrop add much to the action of the play, which is also enhanced by the soundscape. The direction of the production is sympathetic and revealing, and the relieving humour well timed. Some of the dialogue includes some characters speaking together, which makes it difficult to distinguish the words in these scenes. This is the playwright, not the director.

This production is so very well performed, has so much to comment on, and is very apposite for the present time, that it is one not to be missed.

© 2009 Jane Penistan