- Festival De Théâtre Des Amériques/Festival of the Americas
1997 was a banner year for Montréal’s Festival of the Americas, a biennial showcase of international theatre, held since 1985 in late May and early June. As if to prove in this year of crucial federal elections that the festival is worth every Canadian dollar that government agencies have spent on it, artistic director Marie-Hélène Falcon outdid herself with a program of exceptional productions from Argentina, Lithuania, Germany, France, the United States, and of course Québec itself, including Robert Lepage’s definitive version of his epic Seven Streams of the River Ota. Although the Festival of the Americas seeks to introduce Montréal audiences to new work from around the world, it has always given strong support as well to contemporary French Canadian artists. One might certainly wonder if Lepage’s earlier Dragon Trilogy would have ever gotten off the ground or if Denis Marleau and his Théâtre Ubu would have achieved the international status they now enjoy without Falcon’s financial backing and moral support. Given the current reality of diminishing government funds, it is particularly admirable that the Festival maintained its new component, “Nouvelle Scène” or “New Stage,” designed to promote the work of a new generation of local artists.
Judging from the subject matter and treatment of this year’s offerings, it seems clear that Québec theatre, both more established groups (Lepage’s Ex Machina, Denis Marleau’s Théâtre Ubu, and the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental) and the younger generation, has now definitely moved beyond the experiments of the 1960s and 1970s which used the stage as a means of political engagement in support of the national liberation movement. Gone are the playwrights and directors who worked to develop a distinct Québecois consciousness. Internationalism or “international nationalism,” to borrow [End Page 121] Lepage’s descriptive phrase, is the current vogue. Themes, dramaturgy, and intentions have little in common and there are as many styles and sensibilities as there are artists.
In this, the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental (NTE), founded in 1980 by Robert Gravel and Jean-Pierre Ronfard, is no exception. Its work is as distinct from Robert Lepage’s, for example, as Denis Marleau’s is from Carbone 14. Given place of honor in the 1997 festival, the NTE presented not one but two works from their repertory, both by Robert Gravel. Gravel’s untimely death in 1996 has clearly been an indelible loss to the Montréal theatre world and the Festival was the obvious venue to pay tribute to one of the city’s great director/actors.
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The Festival opened on May 22 with NTE’s production of Gravel’s Thérèse, Tom et Simon . . . L’Intégrale (Therese, Tom and Simon . . . The Complete Version), a hyperreal portrait of “ordinary” life in a specific Montréal neighborhood. The production was a special event for other reasons as well. It is the completed version of the play Gravel was working on when he died. When first presented in 1996, one of the two final scenes remained unfinished. Gravel’s colleagues decided to complete the play using notes, outlines, and documents the author had left behind. The much expanded final version (with forty-three characters) offers a hyperreal portrait of a society composed of rather ordinary people in ordinary situations, holding ordinary conversations rife with tragic undertones. The inventive set, at first a cutaway view of adjacent apartments in a Montréal apartment building, revolves to a “garden party” at the home of a Montréal theatre director and opens up to reveal Oscar’s restaurant with tables of seemingly...