- Le Théâtre à Montréal à la fin du XIXe siècle by Jean-Marc Larrue, and: Crise de croissance: Le théâtre au Québec by Angèle Dagenais, and: Théâtre en lutte: le Théâtre Euh! by Gérald Sigouin (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 52, Number 4, Summer 1983
- pp. 527-534
- View Citation
- Additional Information
HUMANITIES 527 Jean-Marc Larrue. Le Theatre ii MDntreal a fa fin du XIX'siecle Fides 1981. '41. $8.00 Angele Dagenais, Crise de croissance: Le theatre au Quebec Institut quebecois de recherche sur la culture 1981. 71. $5.00 Gerald Sigouin. Theatre en lutle: Ie Theatre Euh! VLB editeur. 303. $19.95 These three recent texts exemplify, in their subjects and methodology, the richness and diversity of current research in the theatre arts past and present in Quebec. The scope Jean-Marc Larrue proposes is broadest, and his method most modern: a description of theatrical activity in Montreal in the 189Os, based upon a solid statistical analysis, year by year and for the decade as a whole. None would question the validity and appositeness of the undertaking: there had been too long a tradition of referring to those years as Tage d'or du theatre aMontreal' without any serious probe of the source of glitter; an objective assaying was long overdue. And at first examination the data appear to confirm the tradition. Some 1,900 plays were performed during those years, by more than '5,000 actors, before a combined public estimated at about four million. As Larrue points out, those figures represent a striking contrast with known theatrical activity before 1890. Closer analysis reveals, however, that the totals are much less impressive than they appear, at least as concerns indigenous talent. Despite, for example, Montreal's large francophone majority (at least 80 per cent, after 189'), only 477 of these 1,900 plays were staged in French. And of the 477, only 12 appear to have been written by French-Canadian authors. Thus also for the performers: of 1,250 troupes active in Montreal in the 1890S only 178 (14 per cent), by the author's figures, were of local origin, performing about 4 per cent of programmes offered for the decade. Thus most of the glitter was imported, from Paris or New York, as it had been in the two preceding decades. But Larrue makes clear that his focus is theatrical activity in its broadest sense: theatre in Montreal, not Montreal theatre. After a dozen opening pages on theatre in Quebec before his period (a sketchy and often imprecise treatment) he pursues his analysis under two major headings, 'La vie du theatre Ii Montreal entre 1890 et 1900: and 'Le theatre canadien .' There then follows a ten-page chapter on 'Les troupes professionnelles locales' and an even shorter conclusion, comprising little more than a single page. Our guide certainly does not sin by prolixity. Drawing usefully upon Jean Laflamme and Remi Tourangeau's monograph , L'Eglise et Ie theatre au Quebec (1979), the author describes the 528 LETTERS IN CANADA 1982 evolving attitudes of the Catholic Church towards the stage in this decade . Church-run colleges classiques continued to be the main nursery of actors and playwrights: as Jeanne Corriveau had shown in her thesis in 1965, there were at least 160 college performances in Montreal in that decade, as compared with 101 for the entire province between 1780 and 1889. And among the 16 French Canadians writing plays in the 1890S, six were priests, seven teachers. Obviously, it was not to this sort of supervised activity that the Church objected: it was only when the commercial - predominantly anglophone - stage began seriously to woo Montrealers that religious authorities began to intervene. Which leads to that curious collaboration between Archbishop Bruchesi and a local impresario, Elzear Roy, culminating in the Soirees de Famille (1898- "90"), a valiant attempt to distract francophones from imported theatre and imported ideas. With the concision and precision that his statistical approach permits, Larrue describes the fare offered in this colony of the Parisian and New York stages, this 'succursale d'institutions multinationales : as he calls it. Melodrama and comedy were the genres preferred by both Englishand French-speaking audiences, their totals representing more than threequarters of all plays staged. Francophones also evinced a solid preference for operettas and light musicals, a taste not shared by their fellow citizens; and neither group was much attracted by tragedy or what the author qualifies, without explanation or description, as 'theatre triste.' The lighter the offering, it...