Montréal play #3—LILIES by Michel Marc Bouchard

“When you learn a new language, you gain a new soul.”—traditional Georgian saying

I realized as I was reading the next two plays (Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard and The Magnificent Voyage of Emily Carr by Jovette Marchessault) that they were both translated by the same person: Linda Gaboriau. As the PACT pre-conference tackles conversations about country, isolation, and assimilation, I am hoping there will be some translators among us who can respond to the difficult issues of translating contemporary plays. While I have not yet reached out to Linda Gaboriau, a quick search of her biography mentions that she has been translating over one hundred Montréal plays since 1963. While Lilies is the first translation of hers that I have read for this project, I’m sure to encounter her work again.

I hope that this dialogue on the PACT blog for the Montréal Dramaturgy Project continues (and I’m sure dramaturg Alison Bowie will address in her blog posts), I’ll become more enlightened about the problems of translation specific to Montréal. I checked out Louise Ladouceur’s book Dramatic Licence: Translating Theatre from One Official Language to the Other in Canada (which is also a translation by Richard Lebeau!). I’m only beginning to work through it, but the basics I’ve gathered is that prior to 1960, there were very few works of literature shared between Francophone and Anglophone cultures, but between 1960-1977 there were a burst of translations, mainly from Francophone to Anglophone, as the Québécois theatres were writing new plays addressing issues of identity, while Anglophone theatres stuck to a more classical theatre repertoire. I may be generalizing a bit, but it certainly makes sense that there would be more of a motivation for the Québécois theatre community to create new work to address the shifting politics of The Quiet Revolution and a need to tell those stories. By 1972, the need for translations were supported by Canada’s Council Grant Program for Literary Translation, but it seems that the focus of the grant program funded translations from one official language to another, so where did this leave created work written in the language of the First Nation peoples? Or other immigrant communities present in Montréal wanting to see themselves reflected on stage?

image17-Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean-3EN

Lac Saint-Jean image from a tourist website.

But back to Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard, first performed in 1987 at Salle Fred-Barry in Montréal, but a period piece set in a small village along the Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec in 1912. Two young men come of age at the Saint Sebastian School for Boys and are directed in a school play by Father Saint-Michel, who is shocking the community with his progressive plays. As the play begins, Vallier and Simon, the two handsome youths, are falling passionately in love, but their classmate Jean Bilodeau calls them out. To escape pressure from the community, Simon fakes a relationship with the 30-something Frenchwoman Mademoiselle Lydie-Anne de Rozier, who is also an expert liar. But what Michel Marc Bouchard executes so well is that the play is framed by a play-within-a-play device where in 1952, Simon has been in prison and he presents a play to his former classmate Bilodeau, who is now a bishop, to implicate Bilodeau for his role in victimizing Simon. By using so many theatrical frames—there’s the play Simon is presenting for Bishop Bilodeau and the school play about Saint Sebastian Father Saint-Michel wants to put on for the Quebec village community—it’s extremely clear that characters from 1912 are living in a world where everyone has to play their parts. When Simon and Vallier refuse to play their roles within the straight community, they’re headed for a tragic ending. This is certainly a play that should be included in a classroom discussing works of LGBT theatre history, especially since it capitalizes on layers of theatricality to dramatize the isolation of these two young lovers in a fishing village in Quebec.

Another tourist view of the Lac Saint-Jean. Romantic setting for a play, yes?

Another tourist view of the Lac Saint-Jean. Romantic setting for a play, yes?

This is also the first play I’ve read so far where the First Nation community is somewhat present. I say somewhat because they are constant referenced as “Indians” but never seen on stage. One of the two lovers, Vallier, is the son of an aging Countess de Tilly who is holding on to a false hope that her husband will one day return from Paris to reunite them and take them back to civilization in Europe. In her disillusionment, she calls Lac Saint-Jean “the Mediterranean” and chastises her son for working when he is a nobleman with claims to the Bourbon line. Vallier is more practical of his situation, working as a tour guide alongside the First Nation peoples. Vallier earns the nickname as “Lily-White” as he rolls up his sleeves and works with the native peoples on the lake instead of relying on his heritage to support him. Unlike his mother, he’s not waiting for his father to return and save them from poverty. And As Vallier “Lily-White” de Tilly decides to pursue his love for Simon, he decides to strangle his mother on a hunting-trip and bury her alive just as she’s got her suitcases packed to return to France. Metaphor, anyone?

This is such an important play in the Quebec canon, as it uses the traditional cloak of a period play to address contemporary issues of homosexual identity, I would hope members of the PACT/ATHE community have encountered it before—if not, please come join us for this pre-conference event in Montréal or follow along with this blog. Please feel free to comment, because I’m sure in this blog-writing form I’ve left out an important issue that this work addresses. For myself, it made me think of  university productions of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion that I’ve seen recently and if your students have recently worked on The Illusion, I would hope that you could recommend that they also read Michel Marc Bouchard’s Lilies.

—H.H., dramaturg

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