Clean Slate. Photo by Maxime Côté
It starts with a beer, copious wine and order-in pizza. Six childhood friends, all sheathed in black, kick back for a night of sisterhood, gossip and memories.
Faced with a life-and-death situation, each one is poised to do some next-level tidying-up… decisions that would make Marie Kondo gasp. And one of them has plans that will leave permanent repercussions.
Playwright Catherine Chabot developed the heroines in Clean Slate collectively with the performers in the original production. Lending their names to their characters as well as their thoughts, concerns and dreams, the team created six very real yet flawed women for the stage.
(As Table rase, it was first performed at Théâtre Espace Libre in 2015; the hit show picked up Best Text that season from the Quebec Association of Theatre Critics.)
“When I first read it, I was really taken by the friendship and the vitality of the six women,” says Leslie Baker, who directs this English-language premiere for Talisman Theatre, on now at la Chapelle. “There is a certain rawness, expressivity and camaraderie, and I felt like they’re really living on the edge.”
Catherine (Michelle Langlois-Fequet) is saddled with a sick father, Marie-Noelle (very funny Rebecca Gibian) has a “psycho” mother as well an eating disorder. Sarah (Julie Trépanier) refuses to tackle some deep-seated anxieties about sex. Vicky (Gita Miller) longs for a simpler life. Marie-Anick (Cleopatra Boudreau) and Rose (feisty Kathleen Stavert) dabble with queer attraction. They all feel malaise about the future.
True to real-life conversation, the dialogue overlaps and swings rapidly from topics like anal sex to gluten intolerances to political disengagement. Barbs and zingers abound: “I have been distancing myself (from men) by giving blowjobs!” one woman realizes. Another accurately expounds on fidelity and jealousy: “It’s hard to get rid of the other women in our heads.”
“The speed at which they can switch topics and so closely remain together speaks to that comfort and longevity with which they have known each other,” says Baker.
I confess that at times I hated these girls when they were on the attack. The prude is mocked mercilessly, the one who reveals a scarring one-night stand receives little sympathy. Your friends are the ones who know how best to cheer you up, but they also know how best to wound you.
I thought to myself: these women are shrieking harpies. I huffed and squirmed in my seat in the front row as they tore into each other. But, I realized I’ve spewed as much invective as a young woman. It’s part of what makes Clean Slate hit so hard, but also makes their vaunted, longtime friendships feel hollow. As each one reveals their plans to start afresh in some way, you begin to vividly envision what it is like to experience loss and start afresh, even if the characters’ own motivations remain frustratingly mysterious.
Set designer Peter Bottazzi ingeniously uses black planks of wood and plexiglass to create a stripped-down world that is sleek, intimate and yet slightly menacing. (And it’s fun to watch it being put together and disassembled quite violently.) Peter Cerome’s sound design, from blasting Alanis to dance parties to quick transitions, adds in some lovely and familiar pops of colour.
See Clean Slate with your girlfriends. Make sure to grab some wine before you head in. ■
Clean Slate is on at la Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique) through March 30, various times, $28.50-$33.50 (call 514-843-7738 or visit lachapelle.org).