The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux

Passion in Changing Times

1980: the times, they were a-changin’. But in The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux, poor old Narcisse is being pushed as he reluctantly keeps up with the changing times. Narcisse Mondoux and his long-time crush, Laurencienne Robichaud, are on stage together in this charming Quebecois play at London’s Grand Theatre. This delightful two-hander stars Rod Beattie as Narcisse and Brigit Wilson as Laurencienne. Beattie, of course, is well-known for playing many parts in the Wingfield series, and Wilson has been on stage in Stratford and Blyth.

NarcisseThe show opens at a funeral home in the small Quebec village of Saint-Esprit-en-Bas. Widower Narcisse Mondoux has brought his condolences to Widow Laurencienne Robichaud who has just lost her husband. She confesses that she may have contributed to his death by pressuring him to run for Mayor when he didn’t want to, despite his being on town council. Narcisse is heading off to a Florida vacation, and we see many postcards he has sent to her, flying across the big screen. It’s apparent he is quite infatuated with Laurencienne. In fact, we learn that he has been in love with her since she was 18, but she went off to be a nun so he married someone else. But she leaves the convent and then marries someone else, too. So to impress her, Narcisse says he is going to run for Mayor.

Laurencienne has a surprise for him – she has decided she will run for Mayor. Narcisse just can’t accept this – a woman should not be a Mayor, even in 1980.

But Laurencienne is now a liberated woman, and there is more to life than cooking and cleaning. After all, Jeanne Sauvé has become the first female Speaker of the House. Laurencienne has studied the Municipal Act and has a well-thought out campaign platform. Narcisse has to agree that she is better equipped for the post and tears up his nomination papers. He is surprised to realize that a woman can do whatever she wants to do. And he is also surprised to find out that not only loves Laurencienne, he also admires her. He didn’t know he could admire a woman.

This show appeals to the theatre’s 50-plus crowd. Unless you can remember Women’s Liberation of the seventies, you won’t have a full appreciation of rapid changes that were taking place, and how difficult it was for some men to wrap their heads around them.

The show has some great comedy based on the age old battle of the sexes. It was originally written in French, and normally, jokes, puns, idioms, and slang simply don’t translate well. A good translator has to find substitute phrases that are funny and still convey the same meaning. This is an excellent translation, by Linda Gaboriau, I believe, although I couldn’t find the translator mentioned in the Grand program. I am a big fan of Michel Tremblay and Gaboriau is the best translator of his works.

Beattie creates an excellent Narcisse – he goes from blowhard to humble in two acts. He capably shows us that Narcisse could be annoying, but we know there is a good heart which will soon be revealed. Wilson demonstrates well Laurencienne’s indifference and later her resolve. Unfortunately, neither of them sustains their French Canadian accents. While Beattie starts out with the up and down timbre of the Quebecois, it fades throughout the show. Wilson’s accent is distinct in some words, but not in others. A French Canadian accent is musical and charming: too bad they aren’t convincing.

The witty banter makes for an enjoyable evening, and there is also a heart-warming message about equality and love. Take your young female friends along to see this show. Tell them that there was a day when a female mayor was a strange anomaly. While it seems like Hazel McCallion has been Mayor of Mississauga forever, the 92 year old was first elected in 1978, and she had to fight for the job. The way was paved in the sixties by Charlotte Whitton, Mayor of Ottawa, and the first female mayor of a major Canadian city. Among her many interesting quotes, she is famous for saying: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” I think Laurencienne would agree!

The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux continues at the Grand Theatre, London until February 8th. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.

The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux
By Gratien Gélinas (probably translated by Linda Gaboriau)
Directed by Douglas Beattie
Performed by Rod Beattie and Brigit Wilson
Grand Theatre, London
January 21 to February 8, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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