Après Moi and The List provide a glimpse into Quebec’s vibrant theatre scene

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      By Christian Begin and Jennifer Tremblay. Directed by Diane Brown and John Jack Paterson. A Ruby Slippers Theatre production, in association with BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective. At Studio 16 on Wednesday, January 28. Continues until February 1

      Intimacy, loss, and the tenuous thread of our connection to others are the themes that infuse this ambitious and beautifully realized double bill of translated French-Canadian works.

      Christian Bégin’s Après Moi takes place in three adjacent rooms of a motel—in Leanna Brodie’s translation, it’s located in B.C.’s Cariboo region—whose occupants try and fail to connect. A long-married, emotionally estranged couple, Stephen and Simone, are revisiting the site of an early romantic tryst. Down the hall, Stephanie has picked up Simon after attending his lecture in Prince George, but Simon is too busy yammering on about his research to respond to her advances. Between the two rooms is solitary Matthew, who seems intent on doing himself harm. That everyone is keeping something bottled up becomes the play’s central, somewhat heavy-handed metaphor.

      As the couples’ names suggest, Begin seems more interested in conceptual patterns than believable characters, and the script is a Rubik’s Cube of repetition and variation as their stories gradually intersect. Despite the contrivances of the plot, everyone in director Diane Brown’s superb cast conveys authentic emotion. Particularly outstanding are Jennifer Lines, as the grief-stricken Simone, and Dawn Petten, who hides Stephanie’s desperation under a veneer of comic bluster.

      The unnamed character in Jennifer Tremblay’s The List is also isolated, a self-described “bitter fruit” in a rural village of “nosy bitches”, who blames herself for the death of her only friend. Her story comes out in staccato fragments between items on the to-do lists she compulsively recites to cope with her guilt.

      Tremblay’s script, translated by Shelley Tepperman, poetically limns the anxieties of a lonely, overwhelmed housewife and mother. The Woman shares her feelings of being “inhaled” by the empty landscape around her; she explains that on the one day a week when her children go to daycare, “It’s the one day I eat, thinking, ‘I’m eating.’ ”

      Under Jack Paterson’s direction, France Perras is a marvel of containment, reciting household tasks with the hauteur and grace of a beneficent queen. When she finally allows her grief some release, it’s heartbreaking.

      Set and lighting designer John Webber has created two very different looks for these shows, both exceptionally effective. The three identical motel rooms of Après Moi span the stage, with scrims that light up to allow us to “see through” the bathroom mirrors, a wonderful trick of intimacy. For The List, Webber surrounds the Woman with delicately lit toys and household items suspended from the ceiling, making an ethereal tableau of her daily preoccupations.

      Each of these pieces could stand alone. Together, they provide an enticing glimpse of Quebec’s vibrant theatre scene.