ANA: Theatre Across Time and Culture
ANA, a bilingual play directed by Serge Denoncourt opened at Theatre Espace Go last night and had my expectations running high. I was enchanted by the idea of Québécois and Scottish authors Clare Duffy and Pierre Yves Lemieux teaming up to create something full of pan-linguistic and cultural colour.
This co-production between Imago Theatre and Stellar Quines Theatre Company is full of magic, myths, poetics and extravagant red clothing. I mean, come on. If they'd been serving poutine, they would have zeroed in on all of my interests.
ANA is the story of a goddess in human form who follows each path that life presents to her simultaneously and therefore exists throughout history. The original split in her existence comes in 500 BCE when she gives birth and one of her keeps the child while the other kills it. This act haunts the never-ending Anas throughout time for the rest of the play.
It is understandable then that, being kind of a fantasy nerd, the idea of a play where a strong woman splits into different people each time something tragic happens in her life, often becoming warrior-princessesque badasses, was a bit more excitement than I could handle.
Ironically, my disappointment in the production might stem from the very idea that originally fascinated me so much: that this story does so much. The constant intensity of emotion and direct address to the audience narration mean that there is little room left for truly powerful, understated subtlety.
This play was absolutely visually stunning with its simple set made up of metallic display cases with smeared, cloudy glass that were moved around masterfully and projected upon throughout the play. However, the extremely talented cast of actors, with Catherine Bégin stealing the stage, got bogged down by over-wrought dialogue and exaggerated, endless outpourings of emotion.
ANA's continuously climactic staging prevented it from fully exploring the deeply interesting themes of womanhood and infanticide it brings forth in the equally interesting mode of bilingual storytelling.
A quick look at the list of actors is enough to pique the interest of any Frenglish speaker, such as myself. I was delighted to hear from the only man in the cast, Alain Goulem, how "Through broken English and a lot of Franglais [they got] the communication going".
Where better than Montreal to showcase how two languages and cultures can coexist, but also mingle, interact and inspire each other? I for one am glad to see how this city that Scottish cast member Lisa Gardner describes as "so chic and sophisticated without being snobby," seems to be moving towards attitudes that promote exchange rather than exclusion.
"Anglophones are no longer seen as the enemy, culturally," says Goulem. This interaction between languages is something that definitely flowed easily onstage. "You've just got to really listen," says Gardner, who played her first-ever scene in French in ANA where her Scottish accent mixed into French with some German for good measure. In this instance, the cultural and linguistic confusion worked perfectly with the character's distress.
In the end, it was a shame that the production didn't put more trust in the audience and our capacity to gain understanding amidst confusion without being bludgeoned with explanations. The writers and director should have kept in mind that the greatest enlightenment often comes from what remains unsaid.
ANA runs from Novembre 22nd to December 10th 2011
Théâtre Espace Go
4890, boulevard St-Laurent
Photos courtesy of Tristan Brand