Yours Forever, Marie-Lou is Michel Tremblay’s frightful portrait of a working class family in the 1960s in Quebec. Diana Leblanc has directed a pitch-perfect production for Soulpepper that captures every nuance of the play. This is theatre at its best.
This marvelous play works simultaneously on two solitudes. A husband and a wife are sitting on raised couches on each side of the stage exchanging barbs rooted in deep-seated hatred and disappointment. There is a crucifix behind Marie-Lou (Patricia Marceau) as she sits knitting throughout the play. Her husband Léopold (Christian Laurin) has bottles of beers in front of him and a steering wheel hangs behind him. He is a machine operator, friendless and full of bitterness and resentment.
Patricia Marceau, Geneviève Dufour, Suzanne Roberts Smith & Christian Laurin. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Their daughters are on the stage below the parents and they are in the present day while their parents’ actions took place ten years before. Carmen (Suzanne Roberts Smith) and Manon (Geneviève Dufour) are the products and indeed the victims of the corrosive atmosphere in the family.
Leblanc directs a first rate-cast that brings this pathetic family to life in all its horrors. Marceau as Marie-Lou is sympathetic and pitiable. She is the victim of a religious morality imposed on her that makes sex a duty to be endured occasionally for procreation. Her husband practically rapes her on the few times that they have intercourse and she lives in a closed world where knitting seems to be her primary preoccupation. An outstanding portrayal.
Laurin is equally effective as Léopold, the machine operator who identifies himself with his machine. He has no other world except that of drinking excessively and warring with his wife. He has sex and impregnates his wife against her will and in the end he realizes that he has absolutely nothing to live for.
The two daughters review events that happened ten years before. Manon has become a copy of her mother, right down to her clothes. She is trapped in the same morality with holy water and crucifixes as the central themes of her life. Dufour’s portrayal of this pathetic woman is superb.
Carmen has found an escape route. Smith comes dressed in a cowboy hat, a blonde wig, cowboy boots and the paraphernalia of a country western singer that has much more to do with sexual appeal than anything else. She is the type of woman her father would have gawked at. This, anything it seems, is better than the suffocating and acidic world of her parents and her sister.
The actors speak with a slight indication of a joual accent that is perfect. The accent locates the play in Quebec without making the characters sound like Quebecois speaking a foreign language. Pitch-perfect.
That is one of the touches by Leblanc who captures every detail as the play builds up to the tragic end for all the members of that sad family.
The set by Glen Charles Landry shows, as I said, the parents on raised couches. There are parts of cars in the background that will eventually make sense. The atmosphere is unpleasant, to say the least, and the set is a perfect reflection of the lives of the characters.
The play was originally translated by Bill Glassco and John Van Burek for its first English language production at the Tarragon Theatre. The current production is in a new translation by Linda Gaboriau, the dean of Canadian translators. Those with long memories will recall that the first translation was called Forever Yours, Marie-Lou.
It is a must-see production of a landmark Canadian play.