Glendon stages award-winning play Les quatres morts de Marie

Theatre Glendon recently staged five French-language performances of Quebec playwright Carole Fréchette’s award winning play, Les quatres morts de Marie, as part of the Week of the Francophonie at Glendon and York’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

First produced in 1995, the play won the Governor General’s Award for French Language Drama that same year. In 1998, it also won a Chalmers Award for Best New Play when it was translated into English – The Four Lives of Marie.

Left: Marie, the professional sleeper from the play Les quatres morts de Marie

Glendon English and drama Professor Robert Wallace says the play provides a complex structure that defies the notion of fixed subjectivity. “Marie is at least four women in one, capable of living multiple and conflicting narratives. Her contradictions make her more than intricate and intriguing; they mark her as believable and beguiling – a character who is greater than the sum of her parts,” says Wallace, a senior scholar. “We are all capable of living more than one life, and of playing many roles. Carole uses this idea to create a highly theatrical play in which she celebrates the variety and scope of her central character, even as she allows her to question and analyze her actions.”

Wallace first met Fréchette in 1987, when they served together on Jeu, a Quebec journal about theatre. “At the time, she was making the transition from actor to playwright…and she was alive with questions and insights about plays and playwrights, which brought an immediacy and energy to our conversations that I will always remember. Her plays are informed by an understanding of theatre from the inside. Having worked as an actress, she knows what actors need to develop a riveting character, and what directors can use to expand upon their performances.”

The Glendon production detailed the transformation of a woman through various stages of her life, from the 11-and-a-half-year-old Marie, who thinks she will never die and wants to walk to Tierra del Fuego in her new shoes, to the rebellious young adult who morphs into the professional sleeper – undergoing tests while she sleeps. This grown-up Marie creates an imaginary world, because the real one is too mundane, too confining. The overriding theme of the play is loneliness, non-communication and the loss of illusions.

Right: "My name is Marie, I beg you look at me," says Marie in this scene from Les quatres morts de Marie

“We were fortunate to have received financial support for this Glendon production from the special funds set aside for York University’s 50th-anniversary celebrations,” says Guillaume Bernardi, coordinator of Glendon’s Drama Studies Program. “As a result, we were able to hire two professionals, a director and a set designer, to work with the program’s students.”

The minimalist stage sets and varied costumes were designed by Lindsay C. Walker. The director, Rose Plotek, a graduate of the National Theatre School’s directing department, opted for a runway-like staging surrounded by the audience. The viewers’ attention was thus directed at times on the runway split by a gulley, at other times on the bare walls or each other.

Bernardi hosted A Conversation with Playwright Carole Fréchette: The Author’s Career, Between the Whisperings of the Self and the Noise of the World before the March 19 performance. “Playwriting implies an in between condition which suits me perfectly,” said Fréchette, referring to the title of her chat, which represents this ambiguity. “While I like having choices, I don’t like having to choose.”

Left: A scene from Les quatres morts de Marie where Marie is 11-and-a-half years old

Born in Montreal, Carole Fréchette started her theatre career as an actor, after graduating from the National Theatre School of Canada. She joined the feminist group Théâtre des Cuisines, which functioned until 1981 and focused on women’s concerns, such as child-raising, abortion rights and domestic burdens. They worked in an unplanned, collective format and created with immense fervour and conviction. “All of this ended when the great social movements lost steam resulting in an ideological and artistic impasse,” says Fréchette. The collective presentations became too limiting. She also realized that she wanted to express herself and the world around her on a broader base than feminism alone. “I wanted to speak as ‘I’ rather than ‘we’, but more than that, I wanted to live in the world [as it is], rather than change it.”

Right: Carole Fréchette at a reading

Fréchette launched her playwriting career in 1989 with Baby Blues, a play about a young mother who is trying to define her roles and abilities as mother, daughter, sister, wife and career woman through the fog of 40 sleepless nights since the birth of her child. For Fréchette, this was a transitional play between the Théâtre des Cuisines and her future goals during which she became the solitary, intuitive playwright she now considers herself to be. “It was a necessary step and there was a great deal of autobiographic content, but the real plunge [into playwriting] was Les quatre morts de Marie. This is where the ‘I‘ appears in full force, right from the first words that Marie speaks: Je m’apelle Marie; je vous prie, regardez-moi (My name is Marie, I beg you, look at me). This was my birth as an author.”

The four Maries were foundational for Fréchette. Through writing this play she found her voice and an immense freedom, a voyage of self-discovery and the courage to quit her job at the Canada Council in order to become a full-time playwright. She wrote five plays within four years with enormous creative range. Her satirical play, Seven Days in the Life of Simon Labrosse – the story of an unemployed worker who creates a career out of making people feel real by watching them for a fee – was published in the same year (1999) as La Peau d’Élisa, followed by several short pieces focusing on topics as diverse as the suffering of the Lebanese population during the country’s civil war, and the loneliness of people who are unable to communicate with others.

Right: Robert Wallace and Carole Fréchette

Fréchette has also created her own versions of favourite literary themes, such as Jean et Béatrice (which harks back to The Thousand and One Nights) and her most recent work La petite pièce interdite de Barbebleu (Bluebeard’s Forbidden Little Room). She has written novels for adolescents and completed two theatrical translations. In all of Fréchette’s work, that special voice reveals the knowledge of self and of human nature in general, viewed with a quirky sense of humour and love of the bizarre, and at the same time viewed with a loving eye towards the less fortunate and humanity at large.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny