Le Cabaret Trendy-Trash is an interconnected series of pieces by the writers’ collective Les Poids Plume, presented in a well-rehearsed reading as a unified text by five of its members. The pieces explore what it means to be a francophone of the Ottawa-Gatineau region, or more simply, the Outaouais, because as we’re reminded, “Ottawa n’est pas Hull, Hull n’est pas Ottawa, mais l’Outouais c’est les deux cotés de la rivière.”
Curiously, there’s no English way to say it, though the OOH-da-WAY does have its charms. It is a place of duality, (of two, what do you call em? solitudes? Sounds good), where Ontario meets Quebec, Ottawa meets Hull, French meets English, Quebecois feels need to defend his/her street cred to Franco-Ontarian, Franco-Ontarian agonizes over getting a Quebec driver’s license, and a converted Hawkesburienne writes her reviews of French plays in English and everyone can just shut up about it; all living together more or less in harmony in the embrace of the ever-present river that both divides us and flows through our veins.
We hear from multiple perspectives throughout the performance, the readings overlapping. At times all five read together then break apart in pairs or for monologues with a few sketches thrown in. The presence of books in hand did not diminish the dynamism of the performance. The pieces are mostly comical but moments of melancholy and rage break out here and there. It is a dense performance and it does require that the audience consider the intersection of the pieces as much as the subject matter of the individual segments.
A far from exhaustive list of phenomena covered (that you hardly have to be born French Canadian to identify with): whether or not public servants are boring (no!), whether or not Ottawa is too serious to be romantic (the answer seems to change), whether or not anyone is actually proud to be from Gatineau (no), the existence of Aylmer (debateable) whether the Pontiac is a place or a car, a heartbreaking run-down of the cheap motels between Chicoutimi and Anjou, the longest walk of shame (it begins in the Glebe, no surprise), the ghost of Orleans (on visite pas un vieux fantôme, on le traverse), the best places to kiss (on an island between two provinces? beneath the statue of Champlain?), sex and Beavertails, the amazing proliferation in Ottawa of Irish pubs boasting unremarkable service and lukewarm and expensive food, and oh yes, what Montreal can go do to itself.
Though the audience for such a performance might, on the surface, seem limited to our region, reflections on one’s place and people in dramatic and literary form can transcend the particulars of those communities. Through these funny, sentimental, and inexplicable characters, the writers have done fine work, both in bringing out some of the sensibilities of this region and exploring those places where questions about identity come from in the first place. All five performers were undeniably talented, each standing out in their own right and working together beautifully as a collective.
A working knowledge of French (or perhaps more accurately a not-working knowledge of French) is essential to the enjoyment of this performance but most Anglos in this town (at least those who’ve done any kind of time with some Francos) would pick up enough to make it worthwhile. And think how cultured you would feel! From my perspective as both insider and outsider, I can assure you that nothing in the world is quite as funny as a true French-Canadian temper tantrum in the face of life’s indignities (in squirrel form or otherwise).
Un Cabaret Trendy-Trash was presented by undercurrents theatre festival for one performance only on Friday, February 20, but I would love to see the piece re-presented for a longer run as a full production. I would also buy the book.