For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again

Written on July 8th, 2012

The Making of a Playwright

The Narrator begins the play by telling the audience that this show isn’t going to be special – he goes to great lengths to say that this isn’t Shakespeare, nor Moliere, nor Chekov. In fact, he insists that this play is just about an ordinary mother.

But while it may not be the works of the historical great playwrights, it is the life of Michel Tremblay, arguably Canada’s best playwright. It’s unfortunate that he isn’t widely known outside Quebec, but thankfully, translations of his plays are being produced in English-speaking Canada now. For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again is my personal favourite of Tremblay’s works. What makes this play extraordinary is that he shares how he was influenced by his mother to become a playwright, in a touching, funny way. The audience gets to watch the nurturing of a great writer.

Tremblay tells the story through an autobiographical narrator. The narrator and his mother bring to life several incidents starting when Tremblay was 10 and going through to age 20, when sadly his mother falls ill. His mother loved the melodramatic, whether it was in the French novels she read, or in the movies she watched, or when she herself was telling stories. Her vignettes were wildly exaggerated, very dramatic and always funny. At one point, the young narrator tells her that someone asked him where he got his imagination. The answer is obvious.

This production of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again currently on stage at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia has captured Tremblay’s story superbly. Leah Pinsent is a wonderful Nana: She loses her temper with her young son and yet, we can see her love for him and her pride in him. Pinsent has great chemistry with Jonathan Crombie who plays Tremblay/Narrator. She shows her comedic skills in presenting an imitation of her niece Lucille’s ballet recital, which the audience loves.

Crombie is handles the role perfectly, growing from a fidgety kid to a concerned young man, right before our eyes. He takes us on the journey with him as we watch him evolve into an excellent observer and chronicler of humanity.

Of course, Leah Pinsent and Jonathan Crombie have the experience to handle these complex parts. Pinsent will be familiar for her many roles on Canadian television, appearing recently in TV movie Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and in the series Murdoch Mysteries. Crombie is best known as Gilbert Blyth in the Anne of Green Gables TV movies, and more recently appeared on Broadway as “Man in Chair” in The Drowsy Chaperone. Credit goes to Victoria Playhouse’s David Rogers and David Hogan for bringing in these amazingly talented actors to Petrolia, and to Director Daryl Cloran for giving life to Tremblay’s story and Gaboriau’s words.

Both Pinsent and Crombie have famous fathers – Leah is the daughter of Gordon Pinsent, who has a long resumé of television and film roles. Jonathan is the son of David Crombie, who, in the 70s was known as Toronto’s “tiny, perfect mayor”.

I was thrilled to have the chance to speak with Gordon Pinsent and Leah’s husband Peter Keleghan, who is probably best known as Ranger Gord on the Red Green Show, and for his role in the Made in Canada TV series, as well as many other TV shows. Both were there to see Leah’s opening night performance.

The only disappointment in the show was the set for final scene – which should have been a beautiful view of Saskatchewan. The set just didn’t live up to the excitement it created.

This is the 3rd time I have seen “For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again” – first at London’s Grand Theatre in 2007 with the husband and wife team of Louise Pitre and Joe Matheson in the roles. Pitre used a charming French Canadian accent and obviously the two had great chemistry. In 2012, I saw it in Stratford with Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney. I found that production a little too angry, lacking warmth between mother and son. Pinsent and Crombie found the warmth and the balance that is evident in Tremblay’s writing. I was so taken with the play that I went out and purchased a copy after seeing it the first time and I also convinced a French class I attended at College Boreal to read the original version. Tremblay has delightfully captured an endearing mother-son relationship, and Victoria Playhouse has done it justice.

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 15. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
By Michel Tremblay
Translated by Linda Gaboriau
Performed by Leah Pinsent and Jonathan Crombie
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
July 4 to 15, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

4 Responses to “For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again” | Add Your Thoughts

  1. Veronica Taylor
    July 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    My husband and I absolutely love live theatre and have seen many performances both locally and worldwide.

    We are fans of Jonathan Crombie and loved his role of Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables and in this performance in Petrolia, he was the only saving grace.

    Leah Pinsent does not have a theatrical voice for live theatre. Brutally casting aside her many awards, in this specific role, she was awful. I can’t tell you how many times we (and many around us) were looking at our watches wondering when this play would meet a merciful death.

    Mary Alderson could have been one of the very few applauding this performance and to each his own but in this case, buyer beware.

  2. Thanks for your feedback — very interesting. On opening night, Ms. Pinsent received a solid standing ovation with no hesitation, and I stand by my review. This is a very difficult role, and she was able to be angry with her son, and still show how much she loved him. She also grew with him and she was funny. She delivered many laugh-out-loud lines. I’m not sure what you mean by “theatrical voice”, but certainly there was no difficulty hearing or understand her. — Mary

  3. This was not a script which I enjoyed. My first Trembley play was ‘Les Belle Soeurs’. I am familiar with his work but must say that I am not a fan.

    Two-handers are difficult at best and I applaud the actors for memorizing so many lines! The play was 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. A long time to be on stage.

    I was disappointed with the set and the fact that Crombie never got out of his chair, even when his mother was in pain. He reached out to her, raised his derriere a fraction, but was unable to stand. He never moved to comfort her or touch her. I believe that this is not a reflection on the actors but blocking set out by the director. They each seemed to have their ‘spot’ on the stage and stayed there. (Although Pinset moved to mop or talk to her son, her ‘home base’ was the opposite side of the stage at the table.)

    The set did not offer any insight into the characters being created by the two actors. It was a large empty expanse with a chair, side table and dining room table set with only two chairs for a family of four. And a strange window set too high to be real. It was amusing to see the mountains used to depict Saskatchewan.

    Mary, I think your insight into the script gives you a marked advantage over those of us seeing it for the first time. Unlike the previous two shows in Petrolia, this one found me hoping it would be shorter than it was long. To each his own opinion. I always enjoy reading yours.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Carol. I dug out my copy of the script, and Tremblay says “The narrator enters, sits down on a chair, where he will stay until the end. He can move, gesticulate, cross his arms and legs, but he should not leave the chair until the last few minutes of the play.” As I recall, in both other productions I saw, the narrator sat at one end of the kitchen table with mother moving around and occasionally sitting opposite him.
    The Grand Theatre had a wonderful set for the final scene — it was a Saskatchewan wheat field with a glorious, colourful sunset in the sky, and stage hands were using fans to make the wheat ripple. The audience gasped with delight when it was revealed. (Tremblay calls for the plains of Saskatchewan with a rippling lake in the background.) Stratford also had a wheat field, I think, but it is more difficult to present such a set on the Tom Patterson stage.
    Carol, I urge you to get the script and read it, or if you read French, it’s “Encore une fois, si vous permettez” but the Quebecois slang (joual) can be difficult. I heard Tremblay speak as part of a playwright’s panel in Stratford in 2010, and then I chatted with him afterwards. He revolutioned theatre in Quebec, because until his work was staged, they had only French works: he was the first to present plays about the ordinary people of Quebec. He’s written 27 plays, 28 novels and several film scripts. I found him to be humble and very charming, and he worked hard to give his presentation in English. I was thoroughly impressed. He said he has always regretted never coming out and telling his mother he was gay before she died. However, it is hinted that she knew in “For The Pleasure” — she wonders where he goes at night, but doesn’t push for the answer, she realizes he is not “settled” and she’s given up on a wife and children for him…it is very touching when he talks about this. I found it very moving for a Quebecois Catholic mother in the 1960s to be so accepting and loving. Despite her melodramatic ways, she was a very forward thinking woman, and we can see her influence in his works.
    One final comment. Linda Gaboriau is the best translator of his works. I’ve read some things translated by others and did not care for them as much.

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