The importance of Michel Tremblay’s classic does not get lost in translation in this English adaptation
Based on the popular play of the same name by an icon of Quebec theatre, Michel Tremblay, Belles Soeurs: The Musical, set in Montreal during the 60s, tells the story of Germaine Lauzon. The working-class, Catholic housewife, who lives in the neighbourhood of Plateau-Mont Royal, has her life turned upside down when she wins a million “stamps” which she can trade in for a large number of consumer products in a catalogue, such as pots, pans and even “light-weight aluminum chairs!”
To help her paste the stamps (and to brag extensively about her win), Germaine decides to throw a party for the women in her neighbourhood. She also forcibly enlists the help of her teenage daughter Linda Lauzon, who’s only concern is that she’s going to miss out on meeting her boyfriend at a nightclub, just to contribute to her mother getting what Lindadescribes as “cheap shit.” The night takes an unexpected turn with an unwelcome visit from Germaine’s sister, Pierrette Guerin, a “modern” woman branded as somewhat of a floozy by the rest of the neighbourhood. The result is a thoroughly entertaining story of resentment, seething jealousy, betrayal, love and acceptance.
Deceptively simple, Belles Soeurs is in reality a brilliant reflection of the profound transformation in Quebec society at the time. Written in 1965, the story subtly reflects the secularization of Quebec better known as the Quiet Revolution, which is embodied perfectly in the inter-generational clash of the all female cast: Germaine and her neighbours represent the role of traditional, respectable Catholic women; Germaine’s sister Pierrette represents what is arguably a pioneer, stuck in between both worlds; and her daughter Linda, the young hopeful woman, who does not see herself bound by her mother’s archaic view of the role and behaviour of women in modern society.
While the story is distinctly from Quebec, a wider audience can relate to it. With underlying tones of feminism, the women of all generations are in no way depicted as weak or docile. They are strong and opinionated, each holding on to and defending their societal viewpoints. The roles of Pierrette and especially that of Linda reflect a wider wave of feminism (the demand for equality, the availability of “the pill,” etc.) that was sweeping not just Quebec but the Western world as a whole during that time.
The music by Daniel Bélanger, adapted to English by Neil Bartram, presents a solid effort at communicating the message behind the story. While the musical numbers are a hit-and-miss, as is the case with any musical, they were performed beautifully by the cast under the musical direction of Chris Barillaro. For me personally, the standout musical number was “Ashamed,” performed by the very funny and talented Lisa Horner playing the part of one of Germaine’s neighbours, Lisette De Courval. Lisette, being slightly better-off that the rest of her neighbours, hilariously expressed her shame concerning how her neighbours were not as sophisticated and cultured as she viewed herself to be, using her one trip to Europe, which she called “a beautiful country,” to portray her superiority.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical is a funny, well-acted and thought-provoking adaptation of the classic play by Michel Tremblay. While none of the musical numbers stood out as being as groundbreaking as the original work itself, and the decision to adapt the play into a musical did not necessarily contribute anything significant to the work, it in no way diminished it either. Overall, a highly recommended, entertaining experience that takes audiences back in time to a Quebec that is unrecognizable to the millennial generation.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical, is playing at the Segal Theatre through Nov. 16th. For more information, visit segalcentre.com.