Written by Michel Tremblay
Translated by Linda Gaboriau
Directed by Chris Abraham
Performed by Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney
Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production
Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford
August 11 to September 26, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
A Tribute to an Artist’s Mother
What is most impressive about For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, now playing at Stratford’s Tom Patterson Theatre, is the script. Michel Tremblay, if not Canada’s premier playwright, certainly Quebec’s, has written an intelligent, bittersweet story, capably translated by Linda Gaboriau.
Tremblay, disguised as “The Narrator” in this play, tells the audience that it’s not going to be a big impressive show – he stresses that this is not Shakespeare, not Beckett, not Chekhov, nor Tennessee Williams – we sit back and are lulled into thinking it will be an effortless evening. But then Tremblay gives us his mother, Nana, and we realize that we are going to be entertained, and we are going to learn more than if we were sitting through classical theatre.
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again could be viewed as nothing more than Tremblay reminiscing about his mother. The narrator leads the audience to believe he is just going to tell us a few stories about his mom. He steps back into the scene as a 10-year-old boy facing his angry mother, who is upset that the police have come looking for him. She exaggerates his misdemeanour acting out the horrors that his minor mischief might have created.
Tremblay shares more memories when he is 13, and his mother has offered him her melodramatic novels from France to read. When the young boy questions the lack of reality in the romance novels, his mother goes to great extent to defend the books.
And thus the play moves along, with Tremblay simply relating amusing stories about his mother. And then suddenly the audience realizes that this is much more than just sharing memories through flashbacks. We are being given an amazing glimpse into the making of an artist. His mother, this housewife who is locked into her position by the patriarchal and religious Quebec of the 1950’s, is actually shaping one of Canada’s best and most prolific authors and playwrights. Her theatrical way of raising her son, her creative imagination in telling him the stories of their family, her wonderful sense of humour, and her passion for books and movies have made him who he is. Her pride and love of her son, although not always spoken, is present. But maybe it has taken retrospection for him to see it.
All the humour dissipates towards the end of the one-act show. He is only 21 and his mother is dying of cancer. Despite the sorrow, there is a wonderful surprise ending which cannot be revealed here, for fear of spoiling the production for future audiences.
Lucy Peacock is the melodramatic Nana, commanding the stage with her energy. At times, her anger is too strong and her tone too harsh as she yells at her son for his transgressions. I was looking for a moment of tenderness or a touch of warmth on which to build the mother-son connection that was obviously supposed to be there. Tom Rooney is the narrator, overshadowed by Nana’s power. Rooney is reserved, staying in the narrator role, and not becoming the young son. Again, I feel there could be more of a bond evident between the two characters. Still, Tremblay’s brilliant story shines through in their dialogue.
I was completely taken by the script when I saw it presented at London’s Grand Theatre in February 2007, and the way simple anecdotes are, in fact, brilliant revelations about family relationships and a parent’s influence.
For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again continues at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford until September 26. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.