The show that swept the 2015 METAs – Montreal English Theatre Awards (including Outstanding Independent Production and Outstanding Direction) returns for an encore presentation this season as Tableau D’Hôte Theatre remounts its triumphant English-language stage rendering of Michel Tremblay’s ‘Hosanna’, here directed by Mike Payette and translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco, from May 15th to June 10th at the Centaur Theatre.
(Note: Founded in 2016, Montreal Theatre Hub had not previously reviewed the forecited 2015 production at the MainLine Theatre, and we regret not having seen it staged in a more intimate space. This is our first foray into Tableau D’Hôte Theatre’s adaptation.)
Tremblay transports us to 1970’s Montreal in the dingy one-room Plaza St. Hubert apartment of Claude Lemieux (Eloi ArchamBaudoin), a.k.a. Hosanna, and centres around the titular character’s relationship with long-term, leather-uniformed lover Raymond “Cuirette” Bolduc (Davide Chiazzese) and their life among the queer community on the Main.
Hairdresser by day and drag queen by night, Hosanna (whom, after her persona, we’ll henceforth refer to with the use of feminine pronouns) has just returned home from a Halloween masquerade party gone horribly wrong. Betrayed and publicly humiliated by her partner and friends, she grapples with the freshly shattered image of her idealized self-portrait as a beautiful woman, modelled after the iconic Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Meanwhile, biker boyfriend Cuirette obsesses over the gentrification efforts that are wiping out the site of his glory days of freedom at his beloved Parc La Fontaine. The couple bicker and tear into each other’s insecurities – her multiplying wrinkles, his escalating weight – as they confront the cold, harsh realities of their existences as sexually undesirable, middle-aged social outcasts, which they remain reluctant to surrender to.
The witty and gritty two-hander has ArchamBaudoin and Chiazesse reprising their META-winning roles (the co-stars are each recipients of the Outstanding Lead Performance – Actor and Outstanding Supporting Performance – Actor awards, respectively). ArchamBaudoin presents the eponymous protagonist as comically sour, sarcastic, and self-deprecating in coping with her fateful humiliation. Chiazesse’s Cuirette is rough and crude, but all the while wholly charismatic, with hints of vulnerability glinting through the macho swagger. At the surface level, the fallen queen may materialize as the “tragic trans” stereotype, but upon closer look we discern caricature and cliché from what is intelligibly the character’s complex defence mechanisms at play. Hosanna is shielded, certainly – and with comprehensible motive in a fearfully all-too identifiable narrative of a community of minorities that turns against itself.
The production’s shining moments surge in the second half of the intermissionless performance in which an emotionally exposed Hosanna recounts the night’s events, those of which have culminated in the shattering of her Cleopatra dreams. The poignant confessional sequence is enhanced and made all the more exquisite by the craftwork of the design team (prominently: Set Designer Lara Kaluza, Composer and Sound Designer Rob Denton, Lighting Designer Audrey-Anne Bouchard, and Costume Designer Noémi Poulin).
In drawing upon the most obvious of trans tropes stereotypes and binary imagery, however (we often here encounter the commonplace dichotomies of masculine x feminine, gay x straight, etc.), Hosanna may feel notably passé to modern Montreal audiences. When first produced in French at Théâtre de Quat’sous in 1973, the play was groundbreaking for its time in bringing homosexuality, profanity, and graphic sexual content to the stage, but here the issues on gender and identity seem unenlightened in view of contemporary advancements in LGBTQ(+) rights. The script appears to reject transgenderism, ambiguity, or a non-binary identity as possibilities for Claude/Hosanna, particularly given that the character is eventually forced to decide whether he/she is a man or woman. One further wonders why Raymond, for instance, in his own longing for acceptance as an outlier on the spectrum, would not be among the first to model and display tolerance towards his cherished four-year companion.
Tremblay’s drama, thus, is best enjoyed as what it is: a time piece and an important historical work in the canon of Québec literature, to be appreciated and understood with the vocabulary and social context of ’73 in mind. Hosanna shows its age, certainly, but this award-winning production is not without merit. The cutting script is delivered in vital and vigorous performances by its two leads, and its human themes of aging, gender identity, and sexual expression remain ever so pertinent. A hot ticket and a worthy season closer for the Centaur.
Centaur Theatre presents Tableau D’Hôte Theatre’s
When: May 15th – June 10th, 2018
Venue: Centaur Theatre (453 St-François-Xavier)
Admission: $28.00 – $51.75
Box Office: (514) 288-3161 | www.centaurtheatre.com