Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Albertine in Five Times - a dissection of life by decades

Nicola Correia
Albertine in Five Times - Nicolá Correia

Québec dramatist, Michel Tremblay , thoroughly loves women, and given the delightfully meaty roles that he assigns to them in his plays, they must love him big time in return. In Albertine in Five Times, which opened at Shaw, July 10 at the Court House Theatre, Patricia Hamilton, Wendy Thatcher, Mary Haney, Jenny L. Wright and Marla McLean all play Albertine with Nicolá Correia-Damude as Madeleine, her sister.

Tremblay places all five on the intimate stage at the same time, employing (in basketball terms) a 2-1-2 set, the three eldest, forwards, and the two youngest, guards. Patricia Hamilton plays centre at age 70; she is the glue that binds them together. Tremblay craftily employs the ladies as both Greek chorus and time travellers à la Kurt Vonnegut with Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five . Thoughts, ideas and emotions bounce around and through this tight configuration like a hard, metallic pinball in a midway game run wild, and lines reverberate from decade to decade like the bouncing ball itself. The source of such wildness? For working class women of the period, it's pure rage, and we watch in horror as the rage is amplified with the tortured body language of many tightly-clenched fists and folded arms such that each character translates into a dizzy momentum for the next, tightly packing the psychological examination into 90 minutes of concentrated reflection and passion that ends with a plaintiff Hamilton, suggesting that she can get used to the smell (of her retirement home). According to Albertine, we can be cured of everything except memory.

Albertine at 30 sits on the veranda of her mother's house at Duhamel. Albertine at 40 rocks on the balcony of the house on la rue Fabre in Montreal. Albertine at 50 leans on the counter of the restaurant in parc Lafontaine. Albertine at 60 walks around her bed in the house at la rue Fabre. And Albertine at 70 has just arrived at a home for the elderly.

Each decade is feisty in a unique way. Albertine at 30, Marla McLean, speaks poetically about the countryside and the setting sun, but she mercilessly pummels her eleven-year old daughter, Thérèse, for a physical encounter with a much older man. Albertine at 40, Jenny L. Wright, is iron-fisted hard with no patience for either Thérèse or her mentally damaged brother, Marcel. Smoking cigarettes like inhaling venom, Wright expands rage beyond worldly limits, and her piercing shrieks are genuinely frightening. Albertine at 50, Mary Haney, embraces the cocky joy of rebellion as a waitress with the scent of French fries permanently attached, and she claims brazenly to do only what she wants, but her faux-tough "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil" act cracks badly, when challenged by other Albertines. Albertine at 60, Wendy Thatcher, the most pathetic, sees herself as a betrayer to her family and takes the easy way out with pharmaceuticals, lounging languidly in her bathrobe, long, straight hair devoid of spirit as is her soul.

The 2-1-2 stage configuration and its interplay are amazing to watch, a mixed doubles tennis match that drifts on to a neighbour's court such that nobody really knows who is in control or where or how the ball is to be played. The audience is asked: what would you say to your younger self if you had the chance? And what if you could time travel 10, 20, 30 years in the future?

Albertinein Five Times, wikiphoto   Jenny L. Wright   Mary Haney   Michel Tremblay, wikiphoto   Wendy Thatcher, Wikiphoto

When Michel Tremblay masterfully places his favourite character on stage with five versions of herself to talk to, we learn about her unhappy marriage and her afflicted children with passion, honesty and humour. Madeleine, the sister, is witness to it all, and later in the play, we learn that she predeceases Albertine, thus adding more angst to the fire. At 70, Albertine has no one left. She has outlived her family. She seems resigned, symbolically carrying a small suitcase encompassing her life.

When characters "meet," we view how differently each decade acts and we learn how life intervenes. Albertine at 70 is shocked to remember that she ever thought as Albertine at 30 does, speaking poetically about the countryside and the setting sun. Albertine at 40 has grown rock-hard with no patience. Albertine at 50 has psychologically dropped out and Albertine at 60 has chemically bailed out. Albertine at 70 is grateful to be alive. She says, "There's no point in asking people to change. When you're young you think you're right; when you get older you realize you were wrong; what's the point of it all? We should have the right to a second life, but we're so badly made, I doubt we'd do any better."

Albertine was written in 1984 and Tremblay's leading lady appears again and again in his plays and novels, a Québécois phenomenon, a quintessential tragic heroine, unable to rise above her station in life. The play is directed by Micheline Chevrier, who must have thoroughly enjoyed Shaw's powerful female cast. It's impossible to pick which of the five stands out. Tremblay's magic is that each is vital to the whole.

This is a mesmerizing play that can be watched several times such that "I remember; I remember everything" might equally apply to the viewer. The dramatic ending with each character grasping at the cold moon to unite them all, reminds one of O'Neil's desolate Moon for the Misbegotten that serendipitously runs on the same stage. Notch another solid hit this season for Jackie Maxwell and Shaw's most capable acting ensemble. Albertine in Five play to October 10.

Marla McLean
Albertine in Five Times - Marla McLean

Albertine at 30 Monologue"

Quebec and Michel Tremblay

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