Review: Théâtre du Trident’s Le cas Joé Ferguson

Review: Théâtre du Trident’s Le cas Joé Ferguson

By Aileen Ruane

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” is an oft-quoted line from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, but could just as easily apply to Théâtre du Trident’s production of Le cas Joé Ferguson, written by Isabelle Hubert and co-produced with Le Théâtre les gens d’en bas and La Compagnie Dramatique du Québec.

As soon as the play starts, the audience is confronted with a fairly shocking exposition of details of the murder of Sister Laurette by one of her former students, the eponymous Joé Ferguson, as well as his subsequent suicide-by-seppuku, from two of the main characters, graduate student Camille Dubé (played by an enthusiastic, intelligent Joëlle Bond) and Coroner Dorothée Berthier (in a measured performance by the masterful Sylvie Drapeau). Camille’s research brings her to the small village of Saint-Machin-de- “je ne sais quoi” in order to study the effects of violence on rural communities. In the aftermath of the murder-suicide, Joé’s mother Marielle has been further ostracized by the community, which already considers her to be an outsider, as she comes from an even smaller village, Dumouchel.

Dominic Thibault’s minimalist, multipurpose set design is both clean and evocative of the village’s sparse environs — the transitions from bus, to hotel lobby, to coroner’s office, to school are practically seamless and serve, for example, to effectively fade from a horrifying account of another suicide, to a Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebration through firecracker noises and, gradually, projections of firecrackers upstage. André Rioux’s lighting design provides realistic atmosphere changes without overburdening the production with special effects.

Jean-Sébastien Ouellette’s direction and staging allow Hubert’s alternately realist and postmodern text to pull the audience into this story of empathy and forgiveness, but also does justice to the intensely difficult subject matter, asking those same audience members to turn their gaze inward and evaluate the way we treat the so-called outsider. It is this astute direction that transforms and reverses the notion of the “Other”. As Valérie Laroche’s (pulling double duty as a silent Marielle Ferguson, who only appears on stage in flashbacks) school secretary Valérie Babin bluntly observes, being perceived as a “trou” is merely relative — she checks Camille’s naiveté as a student from the city by hierarchizing New York, Montreal, Quebec City, their village, and Dumouchel. Thankfully, Ouellette’s direction and casting, even whilst foregrounding the black humour of Hubert’s text, permits unexpected (and welcome) moments of comedy. The initial encounter between Camille and nineteen-year old Dereck Roy (Steven-Lee Potvin incarnates this role with comedic presence) is nothing short of hilarious with Camille’s confusion and Dereck’s too-much-information stream of consciousness dialogue. There is also a Martin McDonagh-like quality to scenes such as the recounting of Régis Paquette’s suicide three months before the events of the play, as a result of the failure of his café when a Tim Horton’s café opens up in the same town. In a direct address to the audience, his nephew, Dereck, notes that despite universal agreement as to the tragic nature of the situation, no one in the village stopped going to Tim Horton’s.

The complexity of the truth and the stakes involved in pardoning offenses are the very issues confronting theatregoers in Hubert’s layered play. However, what comes across in the end is the necessity to take personal responsibility in how we treat outsiders. The fact that Joé commits this terrible murder is not up for question, but through clear direction and subtle staging, we come to know that “real life” is much more challenging to accept — there are no villains on stage in the production’s hour and forty-minute run time; however, the real villain, Joé’s abusive grandfather, is never seen on stage, and is only revealed through a heartbreaking monologue from the school secretary to Camille as she is resigned to give up her project and return to the safety and comfort of Montreal. Under Ouellette’s direction, all of the actors take on the role of the chorus, so to speak, breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience — most notably Dorothée, Valérie, and Dereck — in order to further reveal the village’s tragic secrets, its sins of omission and commission. As the plot rises to its climax, we learn along with Camille that Joé’s actions were not unprovoked aggressions, but the culmination of years of abuse.

In spite of the overall heaviness of the play, Hubert leaves us with hope, and Ouellette’s staging highlights this especially during the play’s dénouement. As Dorothée recounts Marielle’s act of pardoning her son, rather than condemning him, before leaving the village, we see a silent Marielle atop the set with a red box, symbolically releasing Joé’s ashes to the wind before audibly exhaling as the stage goes dark. In a play that treats many different binaries — city versus country, victim versus murderer, revelation versus silence — Ouellette reminds the audience that forgiveness goes beyond the rightness or wrongness of an act, thus serving to heal the collective wounds of communities touched by tragedy.

Le cas Joé Ferguson runs through November 25, 2017 at Théâtre du Trident.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Reviews

About Author

Aileen Ruane

Aileen Ruane is a doctoral candidate in Études littéraires at Université Laval. She received an MA in French Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a BA in Theatre Studies and French from Kent State University. Her research primarily concerns the concepts of performativity, identity, and alterity in Québécois translations of Irish theatre. She was a founding member of Blackbird Theatre Company in Chicago. She also teaches Irish dance at Violon Vert here in Quebec City.

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