The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi fully realizes its artistic vision

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By Larry Tremblay. Directed by Claude Poissant. A Théâtre PÀP production presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, SFU Woodward’s, and Théâtre la Seizième. At the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre on Thursday, January 23. Continues until January 25

Go. Playwright Larry Tremblay’s The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi is a densely layered—often painful—poem, and director Claude Poissant’s production is seductively beautiful.

Gaston Talbot, the lone speaker, begins by saying, “I travel a lot. I see a lot of things.” We soon find out that he’s never left Chicoutimi. Still, as Gaston repeats his story, circling closer to the truth, we understand that he’s seen too much. When he was 16, something happened to his beautiful 12-year-old friend Pierre Gagnon, and the incident was so traumatic that Gaston hasn’t spoken for decades. Now that he’s talking, he can only speak in English, a language he’s never learned.

Director Poissant has taken this monologue, which was originally performed as a solo in 1995, and scored it for five male actors. So we get the archetypes within Gaston: the mother, cowboy, Indian, moribund child, and psychiatric patient. It’s a genius choice that enhances the script’s musicality, emphasizing the rhythms of its repetitions, turning some passages into arias and others into choruses.

The script is ripe with the imagery of homoerotic suppression: there’s always been a covert sexual element—dominance and submission, containment and release—in the white mythology of cowboys and Indians, and it’s not hard to figure out the meaning of the white popsicles, with their “unnatural” flavour, that Gaston loves to suck on.

It’s also easy to read the script as a metaphor for Canada’s so-called two solitudes. Pierre’s absent father was a member of the military, part of the intimidating class of English-speaking “bosses” in Chicoutimi. So, from one angle, Pierre is Gaston’s oppressor: he steals Gaston’s French tongue. But even though Gaston sometimes describes English words as shit, the script doesn’t indulge in simplistic Anglo-bashing. After all, Gaston’s tragedy is that he can’t integrate the part of himself that loves Pierre.

None of this abstract discussion evokes the true beauty of the evening. Designer Olivier Landreville’s set is a line of five boxes; each box contains one actor. There is something both jewellike and carnivalesque about this—as if the five Gastons are in a shooting gallery. And there’s tension: because the performers are isolated, they have to listen to one another with almost desperate attentiveness. Union sometimes comes by way of the coordinated gestures and movements of Caroline Laurin-Beaucage’s choreography.

The actors are stellar: Étienne Pilon, all sexy leanness; Patrice Dubois, tough and authoritative; Dany Boudreault, like a puppet of death; Mani Soleymanlou, carrying the weight of failure; and Daniel Parent, pure responsiveness.

Éric Forget’s excellent score turns cheesy organ music into a small-town requiem.

Théâtre PÀP’s The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi offers a rare opportunity to sink into layer after layer of artistic vision.

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