- Robert Lepage on the Toronto Stage: Language, Identity, Nation by Jane Koustas
Jane Koustas takes a new and nuanced approach in examining the work of Robert Lepage, by exploring the relationship between the playwright and the city of Toronto. Described as an ardent Quebecer, Lepage has been welcomed and celebrated in 'English' Toronto (and the Rest of Canada) nonetheless; Koustas's central thesis is that Toronto is uniquely positioned to be accepting of Lepage's Québécois status, his use of francophone actors, bilingual and multilingual dialogue, and pushing the boundaries in redefining and blurring the meaning/s of the national ethos of multiculturalism–Lepage and the city inform and shape each other. Koustas locates Lepage's work within the cultural exchange of French and English Canada–effectively a bridge between the proverbial two solitudes–as he and his multidisciplinary production company, Ex Machina, are based in Quebec City, while continuing to premiere original work in Toronto. At the time of this writing, his new and original collaboration with Guillaume Côté, Frame by Frame, a piece based on the life of Scottish-Canadian filmmaker and animator Norman McLaren, is to premiere at the National Ballet of Canada.
Lepage arrived in Toronto in the 1980s via the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and had already begun to earn a reputation for reflexive avant-garde theatre, in his use of multidisciplinary practices to expand and disrupt established perceptions of the stage aesthetic. The appeal of his work led to an ever-growing popularity and international demand, and he is now a highly praised world leader of the stage. Koustas follows the progression of his work chronologically, through detailed synopses and tellings of each play, and examining both popular and critical receptions of the work at the time it premiered, presenting as full a picture as possible for the reader. Koustas primarily relies on the critiques of others in her discussions of Lepage's themes of language, culture, and geopolitics, and in doing so, she remains relatively impartial and balanced, gathering all the threads of Lepage's complex work and responses to it, thereby allowing the reader to come to their own conclusion.
In the introduction, Koustas writes that it is her hope that the scholarship presented in this book will be of particular value to those who have had limited access to or experience with Lepage's work, due to the 'limited availability of [Lepage's] published texts, one of [his] trademarks' (p. 15). As such, Koustas's meticulous attention to the detail of each original play to date is pragmatic in providing academics, students, and casual readers with a comprehensive grasp of Lepage's work. Moreover, in further situating and contextualising these plays and their productions, Koustas also instils in the reader a deeper understanding of Lepage, his work, and his relationship–an ongoing 'conversation' (p. 4)–with the Toronto stage, and by extension, the city of Toronto.