The story of a fallen diva

Michel Tremblay proves in his play Impromptu on Nuns Island that even Canadian stars can be afflicted with the shallow self-absorbed characteristics that mostly fit the stereotype of Americans.

The story is centered around a French Canadian pre-Madonna opera singer, Patricia Pasquetti, who has come back to her home in Montreal to get away from the exhausting journalists in Paris who have not been kind to her in recent months.

Within the first moments of the play, we are introduced to Richard (Robert Persichini), a very passive and shy character who speaks to the crowd as though they are the psychiatrists and he is the patient. Richard, Patricia’s piano player, refers to himself as “a famous diva’s pet poodle.” It is obvious from this early stage of the play that Richard can be easily manipulated and does not have a strong character.

We are then introduced to Patricia Pasquetti (Dixie Seatle), an opera singer who is back in Montreal to visit her daughter Michelle and escape the life that she has adored for so long. Seatle gives a very impressive performance, convincing the audience that she is a diva who needs to be pampered and made a fuss over when in reality, she herself knows what people around the world think of her due to a bad performance that may have tarnished her career. It is her performance at the Opera Bastille (a famous opera house in Paris) that makes her come back to Montreal, her home and the place that she loathes the most.

The setting is brilliantly done to maximize the space and use of props. It consists of a living room, with a couch on the far side (where Richard lies down on it from time to time as though he is in a psychiatrists office) and a set of stairs where the actors walk in and out of the room.

It must be noted that Patricia changed her name from Patricia Paquette to Patricia Pasquetti to get away from her French-Canadian roots and to be taken more seriously because, as she puts it, “No French Canadian woman with a last name like Paquette could ever become a famous opera singer!”

Tremblay takes this play to an interesting twist by incorporating Quebec politics as one of the main themes discussed among the characters.

The most vocal and outspoken character of them all is Patricia’s mother, Estelle, (Patricia Hamilton) who makes this play truly entertaining and lively. Just as the play was beginning to get a bit dry, the audience is introduced to this sassy older lady who stops at nothing to express herself and criticize everything in her path (including her daughter Patricia).

The general concept of this tale makes the play deceptively lighthearted. Though there is an added comedic twist which completely delights the audience and allows the characters to interact and speak directly to the audience, it is soon made obvious by observing Patricia and her daughter Michelle (played by Diana Donnelly) that there exists tension between them.

We see the transitions that Patricia has gone through to get to her position as an opera singer and the main things she did to get away from the small town (Montreal) that would have held her back. She refers to Montreal as “insignificant” and the Olympic Stadium as a very large “toilet bowl”.

Michelle herself is an aspiring actress and she makes it no secret that she is displeased with the way that her mother has tried to hide her French-Canadian roots. Patricia even goes so far as to change her French-Canadian accent so as to hide what she considers to be a shameful reminder of where she is from.

Impromptu on Nun’s Island is a breath of fresh air and is truly a triumph for Michel Tremblay, a play definitely worth seeing.


Playing at the Centaur Theater until Dec. 1. For tickets call 288-3161.

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