An ear to the wall

At a time when Montreal is putting its best face forward for the 1976 Olympics and Canada is still dealing with the aftermath of the FLQ crisis, a young working-class Montrealer is facing a more personal dilemma.

Benjamin Terlesky’s Armand listens as Serge

At a time when Montreal is putting its best face forward for the 1976 Olympics and Canada is still dealing with the aftermath of the FLQ crisis, a young working-class Montrealer is facing a more personal dilemma.

Serge, the protagonist in Michel Tremblay’s play Bonjour, La, Bonjour, has returned home from a sojourn in Europe realizing he has to find his own happiness.

Unfortunately, he also realizes his unruly and oppressive French Canadian family is standing directly in his way.

Whether Serge can manage his nosy aunts, bossy sisters and withdrawn father, and still disclose a deeply-held secret, will be revealed when the one-act drama, staged by Red Deer College Theatre Studies students, opens on Thursday.

Director Thomas Usher loves the complicated family dynamics of this play, as well as the colourful language and great roles it offers.

But it’s the underlying theme of Bonjour, La, Bonjour that he believes will resonate with audiences.

Like many young adults, Serge struggles to extricate himself from binding family ties, as well as to brush aside expectations of how he is to live his life without hurting other people, said Usher.

“He has to see if he can break free from their clutches and still call them on their bad behaviour.”

In short, Serge has to find his backbone.

Tremblay is known for his unflinching ability to write truthfully about family dysfunction, working-class angst and even cultural division. Bonjour, La, Bonjour, which the Quebec playwright considers his best play, delivers on all three fronts, with insight, precision and humour.

Serge’s live-in family includes his elderly reticent father, two overly involved aunts and some judgmental sisters.

Everyone is living on the financial edge. But when an aunt marries an Anglais to improve her economic status, the rest of the family never forgives her, said Usher. “Nobody likes her or has much to do with her.”

The play touches on a personal secret that Serge is reluctant to reveal about one of his sisters, and examines the universal themes of searching for love and identity in an unexpected way.

It’s very reflective of the 1970s, said Usher, with its Me-Decade theme of “free to be you and me,” and Pierre Trudeau’s famous pronouncement, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”

“The idea of being trapped by your culture plays on several different levels.”

The eight college actors in the cast had a great time contributing ideas toward their ’70s-themed costumes, said Usher. They also learned about the French Canadian culture of three decades ago, and the working-class joual slang that Tremblay used in his plays.

Usher believes audience members who see this English-language version of Bonjour, La, Bonjour will feel at times “like they are peeping at their neighbours, or putting their ear to the wall of the apartment next door. They might shake their heads at the behaviour, then bless themselves because they aren’t part of such a dysfunctional family.”

At the same time, he believes some of the familial behaviour will be so familiar, people will laugh because a scene rings so true.

Who: RDC Theatre Studies presents the play Bonjour, La, Bonjour, by Michel Tremblay (translated by Bill Glassco)

When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8 to 10, Oct. 14 to 17 (1 p.m. matinee on Oct. 17)

Where: Studio A, RDC Arts Centre

Tickets: $17 ($13 students, $12 seniors) plus taxes and service charges, Ticketmaster

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