L’orangeraie is an adaptation of Larry Tremblay’s 2013 novel dealing with terrorism
Amed and Aziz are twins. Their grandmother Shahina thought nothing could tear her “two drops of water in the desert” apart, but war did.
The theatrical adaptation of Quebec writer Larry Tremblay’s prize-winning novel L’orangeraie (2013) is a topical tale that sheds light on the vices of a conflict whose first target is youth.
After a bomb decimates their grandparents’ house in an unnamed village, the two brothers experience the fate of a nation at war somewhere in the Middle East. The twins’ father Zahed will have to make an inconceivable choice between his sons and decide which one should become a martyr to avenge their grandparents’ death. Three men in a Jeep: that’s all it took to turn the slice of heaven where their grandfather Mounir once grew oranges into the holy land of sacrifices.
Directed by Claude Poissant, the artistic director of Théâtre Denise-Pelletier, and adapted by Tremblay himself, the play remains close to the original text. The famous writer, who is also a playwright, at first hesitated on whether L’orangeraie should be a novel or a play, as he revealed in an interview for Théâtre Denise-Pelletier’s Cahier d’hiver. This uncertainty helps explain the theatrical dimension of the book’s structure and the successful adaptation that followed.
The author extracted fragments from about 20 scenes from the book, which is divided in three main parts: Amed, Aziz and Sony. After fleeing his country to become an actor in America, the surviving son obtains a role in a school play. The twin remembers his lost brother by impersonating Sony, a child forced to give a soldier a reason not to kill him. Resilience and war’s abolition of borders between children and adults are at the heart of an exchange between the surviving teenager and his professor Mikaël.
This mise en abyme ending is a reference to another one of Tremblay’s plays, War Cantata (2009). One aspect in which the play differs from the book is the use of voice-over in the first part, as the play begins with Shahina’s voice introducing her own death, whereas an external narrator prevailed in the written piece. However, the narration fades out during the second part of the play, set in America, where the dialogue is omnipresent.
“The characters are outlines of the currents of thought and history of the world, they are only inventions of the actors on stage, that’s what guided us to stay in the narrative mode at first and abandon this restraint in the American part,” said Poissant.
The pared-down scenery and modest costumes remind us of the impact such powerful dialogue can have on the illogical nature of war and its human-scale ramifications. Gabriel Cloutier Tremblay and Sebastien Tessier, who respectively played Amed and Aziz, bring to life an incarnation of juvenile disillusion. The director’s choice to use white actors as the two brothers, and only two actors originating from outside Quebec overall, meets the vision he had of the play, as he explained in an interview with La Presse. In making a clear distinction between theatre and reality, Poissant said he didn’t focus on the actors’ ethnicities but rather on who he thought would best suit the roles.
Poissant’s selection of settings resonates with the uncluttered but thunderous style of Larry Tremblay. “Being simple is complex. I’ve often reminded all [the artists] that they should hold back on emotion … so you could hear the lyricism but also the real issues of the characters and the insidious manipulation within the human spirit,” said Poissant. Devoid of any judgment, Tremblay’s unapologetic and poetic contemplation of terrorism breaks a taboo by finding the right words to paint one of the 21st century’s main horrors.
L’orangeraie runs at Théâtre Denise-Pelletier from March 23 until April 16. Tickets are $31.20 for people under 30.