First impressions are so important.
It’s true in job interviews, meeting your in-laws or first dates, and it’s true in theatre, too. I was instantly pulled into Raise the Stakes’ bilingual production of Eugene Ionesco’s odd The Bald Soprano thanks to Paul Naiman and Michelle Langlois-Fequet, playing Mr. and Mrs. Smith, opening the play with the sort of zest and fervor that are impossible to ignore. Mrs. Smith is telling her visibly annoyed and inattentive husband about her day as he continues to read a comically large newspaper. This would be the first of many (to my surprise) physical and visual gags in this production of The Bald Soprano.
The Smiths host the Martins for dinner (a meal that never actually happens during the play’s 80-minute runtime) and the double-date quickly turns into an opportunity for the four characters to one-up each other, telling ridiculous stories and anecdotes. It’s no-holds barred when the local fire chief comes by, upping the energy tenfold. The Martins (Hugo Prévosteau and Chelsea Morgane) have a memorable entrance after being chastised by the Smiths’ maid (Lesley Leichtweis Bernardi) for being late. The Martins look like they are straight out of a Wes Anderson film, she in a pink blouse and blue floral skirt, he, a mustachioed bespectacled man wearing an orange turtle neck and light-blue pants. They forget how they know each other until deducing that they are probably married since they sleep in the same bed in the same room in the same apartment.
The energy of the performers never let up and their enthusiasm was infectious. While this play by Ionesco, the playwright’s first, may not be everyone’s taste – it’s absurdist with no traditional narrative to speak of with a slightly exhausting denouement about language and communication – it’s hard not to see this production by Raise the Stakes, a scrappy troupe founded by Dawson theatre graduates, as anything but a labour of love.
It’s a small production directed by Anton Golikov, at the small Théâtre Sainte Catherine, but they make the most of it. A chair routine by the Martins was inventive and risky, but it paid off with a few laughs. Mostly, this worked because Prévosteau and Morgane were so game. The whole cast is all in. The smallness also made it quite intimate, and two audience members were pulled on stage for a short scene that was only a little bit uncomfortable. If you don’t want to be bothered, I suggest sitting upstairs or away from the aisle. But the size has its drawbacks too: on opening night, the house photographer’s (whose photos you see here) shutter was a little distracting.
The decision to have the play performed in English and French (the Smiths and their maid spoke English while the Martins and the fire chief spoke French) was inspired. How unique, too. Could that happen in a city other than Montreal? Doubtful.
Raise the Stakes’ bilingual production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice chauve) is at Théâtre Sainte Catherine until Saturday, Feb. 22. For ticket reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.