L'homme invisible/The Invisible Man

Text by Patrice Desbiens. Original concept by Roch Castonguay. Directed by Robert Bellefeuille, Esther Beauchemin, Roch Castonguay, and Robert Marinier. A Théí¢tre de la Vieille 17 production, in collaboration with the French Theatre of the National Arts Centre. At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Friday, October 12. No remaining performances

Poetry gets its power from compression: it leaves us to fill in the spaces around the well-chosen word. L'Homme Invisible/The Invisible Man translates the poetic principle to theatre.

The text is adapted from the work of poet Patrice Desbiens and tells the story of a francophone man born in Timmins, Ontario. His invisibility is a result of both cultural displacement as a boy, he dreams of being a cowboy, but "everyone knows that cowboys can't speak French" and a void where his parents should be (his mother, who is more devoted to Jesus than to her son, dies when the boy is young).

Two actors narrate the Invisible Man's coming of age and his search for identity, as he moves to Quebec City in the 1960s and discovers sex, hippiedom, and, later, alcohol but not himself. One actor speaks French and the other English, as they trade off lines of dialogue that are not always literal translations of each other. Desbiens's poetry is spare and often arresting: after the death of the boy's mother, we are told, "Sadness rents a room with no windows in the Invisible Man's heart."

The production elements are designed to keep the text front and centre. The actors stand side by side on ladderlike platforms, seemingly floating in space, which emphasizes the character's rootlessness. There's a scrim in front of them, and Michael Brunet's dramatic lighting fills the wide emptiness behind, creating a cinematic feel that is further heightened by Daniel Boivin's live sound design and musical accompaniment. It ranges from introspective to fiery, beautifully underscoring the words without ever overpowering them.

Actors Roch Castonguay and Robert Marinier play the two halves of the same man in animated performances that transcend their immobility on-stage. Marinier, who delivers the English lines, is boisterous and belligerent, and Castonguay is sardonically charming in French. Their effortless rhythms capture both the text's gentle humour and the pain that it sometimes seems to mask.

L'Homme Invisible/The Invisible Man sheds light on the familiar idea of Canada's two solitudes by showing, with theatrical ingenuity, how they can reside in a single person.