We don’t need to give you the hard sell when it comes to Unité Modèle: if the central conceit isn’t timely enough, actors Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin and Emilie Leclerc are ready to make you an offer you can’t refuse.
In Guillaume Corbeil’s script, the two have been tasked with selling a new condo development, and in Théâtre la Seizième’s production, the set is an immaculately “staged” demonstration apartment. The Québécois play might be performed en français—with English surtitles on select nights—but the setup screams Vancouver.
“I certainly didn’t have to make any adaptations to the script,” says director Philippe Cyr, who’s helming the two-hander. “It’s crazy, because Emilie, one of the actors, she lives here, and all the team also, so we have conversations about the script, and all the team felt it was really close to the situation here. I mean, it’s better to show this play in Vancouver than in Montreal, because the problem here is huge. And it’s an especially big issue for artists; housing is so expensive that a lot of artists have to move away, particularly if they have kids. From what I hear, it seems difficult to live in Vancouver.”
As in Vancouver’s undeniably out-of-control real-estate market, there’s more going on in Unité Modèle than initially meets the eye. “Je suis un citoyen de l’image,” playwright Corbeil has said, professing that he’s essentially a creature of the media environment. Not surprisingly, his play is all about what we do to convince others that we are the best possible versions of ourselves—in love, in business, and at play.
“We are always trying to reach our best self and present it to the world,” Cyr says in a postrehearsal telephone conversation with the Straight. “We’re trying to get the best apartment; we’re trying to get the best couch, the best kitchen with the best materials. We’re trying to get the best boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband—and we want to have the best dog, too.”
The French have a phrase for this kind of projection: c’est une façade. But façades are rarely built to last, and the front that the two performers project during the first part of Unité Modèle eventually comes crashing down. Perhaps wisely, Cyr avoids going into the details. “Maybe I will keep that information for us,” he says, laughing. “But at the end of the show you are not sure what you have seen—which part was real and which part was fake. Those two salesmen are so good at their job, so when they talk about their real lives, is it in the script? Is it a sales pitch, or is it their real lives? It’s always mixed up, so at the end of the show you have many options. The audience will have to find their own answers, and start a dialogue with themselves to know what is the truth.”
One thing Unité Modèle is not, Cyr adds, is didactic. “It’s funny; sometimes it’s very funny, like a comedy show,” he says. “But under that funny feeling there’s a big drama. You never have one layer; you always have at least two layers, or three or four. Guillaume Corbeil did an amazing job with this, and it’s a pleasure to work on such a well-written play.”
Unité Modèle runs at Studio 16 from Tuesday (October 17) to October 28.