The comedy that challenged 1960s Quebec culture remains at the forefront of Canada’s battle for human rights.
In a working class neighbourhood of francophone Montreal in 1965, Germaine Lauzon invites her sisters, friends, and neighbours to a stamp-pasting party. Over the course of the evening, petty rivalries and disputes between the women boil to the surface, and the joys, sorrows, and disappointments of their lives are tellingly and hilariously revealed.
Theatre UNB is set to open its 2014-15 season this weekend with Les Belles-Soeurs, the much loved hit comedy by Quebec’s best known playwright, Michel Tremblay.
“I’ve long been a fan of this play since reading it some years ago,” said Len Falkenstein, director of drama at University New Brunswick. “A lot of the appeal came from the simple fact that it’s got a cast of fifteen women, and there are always a lot of female students in our program. Plays written for multiple female characters, especially when the characters are all so well developed, funny, and moving as in Les Belles-Soeurs, are not as easy to find as they should be.”
Denounced when it first premiered in 1968 for the irreverence and perceived vulgarity with which it challenged traditional mores regarding such topics as sex, religion, and the place of women in society, Les Belles-Soeurs has since become an icon of Canadian theatre, and has become the most produced francophone play in the world.
“The subject matter of the play definitely has a different impact today than when the play debuted in 1968,” said Falkenstein. “At that time, Quebec was still a society in transition from the very Catholic, conservative Duplessis era to the liberal, secular society that it is today. So for there to be a play that depicted a group of women unhappy with the lives that had them toiling as domestic slaves, complaining about their husbands and children, brainwashed by Catholicism and seeking back alley abortions because reproductive rights were restricted, was a huge poke in the eye to all the sacred cows of that time and place.”
Les Belles-Soeurs remains an important and relevant work of theatre over forty years after it first debuted at Montreal’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert. Themes of women’s rights and the necessity to challenge old ways of thinking continue to be at the forefront of many human rights groups, including those in our own province.
“Today, all of that seems historical,” said Falkenstein. “But at the same time, women are still doing most of the housework and child care in most families while dealing with the added pressures of having a career and conforming to a new set of ideals; there are still issues surrounding reproductive choice, as seen in our own province. So the subject matter of the play remains more relevant than it might seem.”
Theatre UNB’s production of the English translation of the play features an all-female cast of fifteen and is directed by Len Falkenstein. The play will be performed at 8 PM nightly, Wednesday October 29 through Saturday, November 1, at Memorial Hall on the UNB campus. Tickets are $15 regular, $10 for seniors and the underemployed, and $8 for students and are available at the door, with tickets available at reduced prices for an additional preview performance on October 28. For more information, phone 447-3078 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.