When actor and director Gilles Provost was approached by David Whiteley to direct Claude Montminy’s play Maestro in French and English, he took a break from writing his memoir and tackled this challenge. Gilles had seen and enjoyed the play before and he understood that directing it in two languages was risky but worth pursuing.
The play is set in present day Vanier. A violinist with the NAC Orchestra, Maude, invites the new Maestro over for dinner so that she can make an impression on him and hopefully get the first violinist job. Her boyfriend, Ryan, with whom she’s “on a break,” drops by unannounced and invites himself for dinner. Of course, The Maestro thinks he’s on a date with Maude, but in fact, Maude and Ryan end up competing for The Maestro’s favour, thinking of career advancement. There’s a bit of fancy wine and porn music involved, but in the end, what is expected happens: Maude and Ryan make up, The Maestro is put in his place and the spilt wine is reimbursed.
I saw Maestro in both languages, first in English and then in French. It is truly impressive that the actors not only remembered and rehearsed the play in two languages, but that they also delivered the punch lines and tried their very best to not let some language specific expressions get lost in translation.
Throughout both interpretations, we can see clearly that David Whiteley (who plays Ryan) is an Anglophone and that Manon Lafrenière (who plays Maude) is a Francophone. This greatly affected their dynamic as the play was interpreted in each language. It was interesting to see David as the strong actor in the English version and Manon as the strong actress in the French, but seeing them weaker in the opposite language; they consistently struggled with remembering lines and with the delivery of colloquialisms.
“Despite some of the language and performance limitations, the play was legitimately funny and cheeky, regularly soliciting laughter from the audience, myself included.”
Furthermore, the actors inform the audience of their second language struggles as they delivered lines here and there in their native tongue instead. I suppose that this was meant to highlight the bilingual aspect of the play and remind the audience that the play can also been seen in another language. However, I think that the actors’ limitations in their second language hindered the performance rather than added anything to it.
While it was easy to understand David and Manon’s accents and to appreciate their efforts performing a play in two languages, Serge Paquette’s interpretation of an eccentric Hungarian Maestro left me scratching my head. His accent, ambiguous at best, was equally hard to understand in both languages and sometimes his lines were incomprehensible. The Maestro was meant to be a flamboyant character but the over the top performance and his misogynistic and pompous personality made him look more like a clown. It was hard to believe that he was indeed a musical genius or that he would be in any way respected by his peers. His antics were closer to tantrums and what meant to make the audience laugh often left them cringing.
Despite some of the language and performance limitations, the play was legitimately funny and cheeky, regularly soliciting laughter from the audience, myself included. The play was light and sitcom-like, which was a nice change from some of the heavier themes explored in theatre this season throughout various venues and programming in Ottawa.
But undoubtedly the good thing about Maestro was that the production team and cast took a bold leap and produced and performed a play in both English and French in Canada’s Capital.
I mostly go to English theatre but also see French theatre when I can. A bit like French, Québecois and French-Canadian films are distinct from British, American and English-Canadians ones… So is theatre. To be able to see the same piece played by the same actors at the same venue brought English and French theatre on common ground and exposed audiences to something they might have otherwise never seen. I am privileged to be able to experience theatre in French and English and I rejoice at the thought of my fellow theatregoers being able to enjoy a play they wouldn’t have seen because it played in a language they didn’t understand.
Maestro is playing at The Gladstone (910 Gladstone Ave) until June 10, alternating between performances in English and in French. Visit www.thegladstone.ca for the schedule. Tickets cost $22–36 online and at the box office.