Léa Rondot and Alain Mercieca in DéPFLIES. Photo by Danny Belair.
Chalk it up to artistic intuition. Montreal’s theatre scene is especially prescient this week, having sensed the advent of our proposed controversial charter months before the word “small religious symbols” tumbled out of anyone’s mouth. Several plays opening this week analyze multiculturalism, tolerance and prejudice in Quebec.
“I cringe at some of the lines,” playwright Alain Mercieca says. “Should I soften them up, or just fuck it?”
This kind of soul searching can only mean one thing: a new installment of flagship serial-theatre-sitcom DéPFLIES. “Bling Blingualism” has St-Henri depanneur owners Peter and Marie-Isabelle and their regulars (the dep-flies) tackle issues of hijab and homophobia over chips and cheap beer.
In this installment, Peter hides a “controversially non-homophobic” Islamic refugee in the store. Roger and his girlfriend debate how to raise their baby — separatist, federalist or a-patriotist. Alex becomes the most non-racist person alive, a man who makes judgments strictly based on brainwaves.
“This is our edgiest one,” Mercieca says. “I’m curious how it will be received in French and English. DéPFLIES was made to make people laugh, but it has also brought them to tears.”
In older incarnations, DéPFLIES focused on the bilingual nature of Montreal. Mercieca believes that the city is evolving in more complicated ways. “You feel it in the air with the red squares — what it is to be a new Québécois. Things are moving beyond language. The new generation is multicultural and bilingual and exploring that.”
Mercieca doesn’t want to preach to the choir though; he challenges them. “We bring up subjects in a devil’s advocate kind of way. We give both sides a chance.”
“We hope people see the comedy,” he says and adds, “I didn’t want it to be an exercise in racial slurs. There are degrees of racism and no one ever admits to being racist. I met a guy from Texas who kept uttering racial slurs. I pointed it out and he said he wasn’t racist, that he hated everyone equally, even himself. There are certain levels of tolerance and part of it is figuring out when to draw the line.”
DéPFLIES plays at Théâtre Ste-Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine E.), Thurs.– Sat., Sept. 19– 28, 8 p.m., $12
Talisman Theatre brings English translations of Quebecois productions to Montreal. This week, they present a staged reading of Fabien Cloutier’s award-winning Billy (The Days of Howling), translated by Nadine Desrochers and directed by company co-founder Emma Tibaldo.
Three people’s lives intersect when four-year-old Billy is left alone in a car during a cold snap. Billy’s father wants to drop some knowledge on his son’s daycare teacher. A mother sees the boy and is livid about the negligent treatment. A third character waits impatiently for a bulletin board to be installed in her office. Ultimately, their prejudices, ignorance, and stereotyping result in tragedy. According to Tibaldo, “It’s like a howl from beginning to the end. You start and you don’t get off. It’s one long scream of rage.”
Tibaldo recognizes the immediacy of the play’s message in the wake of current events. “It’s a play about three people making assumptions about other people — sort of like the things happening in Quebec right now.
“The play doesn’t specifically speak about race or religion. The three characters are Catholic, French Canadian, and white,” she continues, “but it highlights our propensity to create divisions and to punish each other for them.
“I think it is an extraordinary appropriate play for our time,” she adds. “We need to howl some more.” ■
Billy (The Days of Howling) reading at Théâtre La Licorne (4559 Papineau). Sept. 21, 4 p.m., PWYC. The show is followed by a Q&A with the playwright and translator, moderated by Shelley Pomerance.