Review: Segal’s “What’s In a Name?” a rattling battle of wits

French comedy "Le Prénom" delights in Montreal English adaptation at the Segal Centre

Matthew Gagnon, Erika Rosenbaum, Pat Kiely, and Andrew Shaver in “What’s in a Name?” at the Segal Centre (Photo: Leslie Schachter)

In due time for Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations, the final production of the Segal Centre‘s 2017-18 artistic season is birthed in partnership with Just for Laughs as part of the Fous de théâtre, de la scène à la rue! summer theatre festival programming. After having achieved international success since opening in Paris in 2010 and being adapted to the large screen in 2012, director Jennifer Tarver here gives What’s in a Name? (“Le Prénom”) its Montreal English language premiere at the Segal from July 9 to 30, 2017.

Matthew Gagnon, Amanda Lisman, Erika Rosenbaum, Pat Kiely, and Andrew Shaver in “What’s In a Name?” (Photo Andrée Lanthier)

Michael Mackenzie’s fresh adaptation of Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellièr’s original French script sets this contemporary comedy-of-manners in our own hip urban Mile-Ex neighbourhood where five thirty-something-year-old intellectuals gather for a dinner date gone askew.

Hosting the casual affair in their artsy apartment are Concordia professor Peter (Pat Kiely) and his schoolteacher wife Elizabeth (Erika Rosenbaum), who in her housekeeping duties scrambles and scurries to prepare for the soirée while frantically tending to wailing children and incoming phone calls from family. Among the party guests are longtime friend Claude (Matthew Gagnon), a flautist for the OSM; Elizabeth’s brother Vincent (Andrew Shaver), a real estate agent; and his fashionably late pregnant wife Anna (Amanda Lisman).

When the proud parents-to-be announce to their cohorts what they plan to name their unborn offspring, the controversial moniker causes incredulous outrage. What begins as a highbrow argument on the value and importance (or lack thereof) of one’s appellation builds up to a verbal spew of bottled resentments. Soon enough blood is spilled, couscous is thrown, and a series of rattling revelations of uneasy truths boil violently at the surface – threatening to ruin not just the evening, but their very relationships.

Bottom: Matthew Gagnon and Erika Rosenbaum; Top: Pat Kiely and Andrew Shaver (Photo: Andrée Lanthier)

The slick dialogue delivered with tag-team precision by a taut ensemble cast swiftly propels  the intermissionless What’s In A Name? through its enjoyable one hundred minutes. The performing quintet has palpable chemistry, delivering the snappy zingers mostly with ease. Shaver is especially adept as the smirking but ultimately vulnerable Vincent whose riotous antics are often at the centre of the piece. His brashness is finely counterpointed by the mousy musician Claude, brought to gentle life by a wholly likeable Gagnon. In their turn, Kiely, Rosenbaum, and Lisman all have excellent moments, aided by a quick-witted script that provides their characters with varying degrees of development. (A particular highlight is the overworked and undervalued Elizabeth’s monologue late in the act, which greatly garnered approbatory audience applause on opening night.)

Production values are sharp given Olivier Landreville’s ornate set design – which speaks volumes of its inhabiting characters – and Robert Thomson’s exquisite lighting. The transformation of the cityscape through the window at sundown is a sedative spectacle in itself amidst the commotion.

Alas, there are head-scratchers in What’s in a Name? When the dust of whirl-winding reactions to the scandalous name settles (no spoilers here – but let’s just say that it would send Elizabeth’s Jewish mother, Françoise, into lethal convulsions), there’s still plenty of time on the clock, and the play eases back into the commonplace premises of boulevard comedies: storyline twists, secret affairs, and hidden agendas. It’s all wildly funny and prohibitively entertaining, certainly, but once the title point of discussion drops, you’re left yearning for extended exploration of it on a continuum.

Does a name determine one’s destiny? Can a relationship be evaluated or dismissed based solely on narrowly defined role expectations? How much do we really know about those closest to us? For those looking for a catharsis that comes with spouting all that you desperately wish to say to that one friend or family member (you know you’ve got ’em), this is your ticket to relishable release.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon

The Segal Centre in collaboration with Just For Laughs present the Montreal English Premiere of “What’s In a Name?”

When: July 9 – July 30, 2017
The Segal Centre for Performing Arts (5170 chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, H3W 1M7)
$32 – $65.
Group, Senior, Student, Under 30 discounts available. Subject to availability.
Box Office: 
514.739.7944 |

Running time: 100 minutes without intermission

ORIGINAL SCRIPT BY Matthieu Delaporte & Alexandre de la Patellière
DIRECTOR Jennifer Tarver
SET DESIGNER Olivier Landreville
FIGHT DIRECTOR Robert Montcalm
STAGE MANAGER Elaine Normandeau
STARRING Matthew Gagnon, Pat Kiely, Amanda Lisman, Erika Rosenbaum, Andrew Shaver

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