Darragh Mondoux in En Pointe (Photography credits: Jaclyn Turner)
Just when I thought Tableau D’Hôte Theatre’s En Pointe mini-play series was over for good, a St. Patrick’s Day special episode was announced! The piece is part of an ongoing collection of bilingual, non-sequential, slice-of-life, mask-obligatory, socially distanced, outdoor, 10-to-15-minute play series that are set and presented in-situ at various surprise locations around Pointe-St-Charles, usually announced just a couple days in advance. Written and directed by Mathieu Murphy-Perron, the series aims to bring theatre to the community for free, with stories, characters, and places that reflect their own reality, especially during the pandemic.
“Saving Grace” was a one-woman show, starring the absolutely charming Darragh Mondoux. Between frequent swigs from a bottle in a brown paper bag (remember this, it’ll be important later), she reminisced and ranted about the history of the Irish community in Montréal and the Pointe, as well as her not-insignificant part in it. Frequently breaking the fourth wall, the play culminated in a surprise St. Patrick’s Day parade, with Grace leading the audience down the street, to the confused and bemused reactions of peeping neighbours.
The play was equal parts laughter, sadness, and education, continuing the perfectly balanced mix that has made the En Pointe series such a success so far. I will admit to knowing next to nothing about the Irish community in Montréal, nor ever having attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade before. I learned about the 100 000 Irish refugees fleeing the typhus epidemic in 1847. I learned about the thousands of them that died in the ships on their way here. I learned that it was the Soeurs Grises that cared for them in Montréal (a particular point of interest for me, a nursing student), and that the Montréal Mayor at the time, John Mills, scrubbed up to volunteer his own nursing services, and died while caring for the Irish refugees. And finally, I learned that even among all that death and despair, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was not cancelled.
In some ways, En Pointe is providing a great public service. In this age of edu-tainment, history knowledge goes down a little easier when it’s funny and engaging, and who better to target as learners of the history of the neighbourhood than the neighbours who live there? The City of Montréal might consider engaging the services of unemployed theatre creators across the different boroughs to provide such education about the respective histories of all the neighbourhoods that make it up.
Finally, I would hate to forget to record the unusual circumstances of this episode’s existence. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the ever-changing covid-gathering legislation, but it would seem that theatre is still banned in Montréal (a forever-red zone), however limited-size exercise gatherings are still allowed. Therefore, to legally justify this play’s existence, the small audience was asked to take a stretch every time Grace took a swig from her bottle! As funny as this drinking-game-turned-exercise was, it also presented a weak point in the play. The severe restriction of the audience size (six people!) despite the social distancing and masking measures taken (outdoors!) greatly limited the community and connectivity I felt in the earlier episodes of the series, even if Tableau D’Hôte arranged for three performances of the play given the intimate audience restrictions. As wonderful as the experience was nonetheless, this kind of art does not benefit from exclusivity, and it runs contrary to the series’ inclusive and communal ethos. It’s the kind of event that makes you a bit sadder in missing “the real thing”. To end on a happy note, I will say that I overheard talk of an En Pointe second season… and if you have not yet had the opportunity to come to one of the episodes, perhaps you will still get your chance!
Episode 11 of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre’s En Pointe was presented live on March 17th, 2021. Recorded video and graphic novel adaptations of the full series are available at www.tableaudhote.ca.