Lilies or the Revival of a Romantic Drama
Presented by Local Jewell Productions
At The Ballard Underground
Written by Michel Marc Bouchard
Directed by Christopher Jewell
March 24-April 9.
Friday night, Lacy and I went to see Local Jewell’s latest show Lilies, or the Revival of the Romantic Drama by Canadian playwright Michel Marc Bouchard. I was unfamiliar with this particular piece, but I have had experiences with his writings before. I found Lilies to be similar to his other work, as Bouchard focuses on the idea of honesty, truth and the appeal of lies embedded in a complex multi-leveled, multi-time-framed, metatheatrical structure which allows him to explore a range of themes and issues both directly and indirectly relating to the theme of the show.
Even the Bouchard’s title, Lilies, or the Revival of the Romantic Drama, plays with the presentation of truths. Bouchard immediately draws attention to the concept of “revival” in the subtitle. In fact, the original French subtitle, la Répétition d’un drame romantique, contains a rather clever play on words: “répétition” implies both the rehearsal of a play (which we see in the first scenes), and the repetition of a previously performed drama (which we watch along with the Bishop as his life is played out before him).
Yeah. I know. I’m a theater nerd and a script was my date to the prom.
Lilies is a serious piece about love and revenge which also manages to include a commentary on truth and on theatre thanks to its multi-level structure. The play is set in 1952, in a prison chapel, where Bishop Bilodeau has been invited under the ruse of taking the confession of a childhood friend, Simon Doucet. Instead of hearing Simon’s dying sins, we watch as a Bilodeau is forced to watch his past in the form of a play produced by prisoners.
The prisoners’ play takes the action back to the Quebec countryside of 1912 when Simon, Bilodeau and the Parisian newcomer, Count Vallier De Tilly, were young contemporaries. In acting out the circumstances that occurred immediately prior to Simon’s incarceration, it is intended that Bishop Bilodeau will be the one to confess what he did four decades earlier that resulted in Simon’s wrongful imprisonment.
If I suggest that the play-within-a-play-within-a-play structure is like the layered skins of an onion, it would not do it justice as the intelligence of this play goes far beyond its assembly. It was really quite fun to realize you’re watching actors playing prisoners playing Canadian country folk. By definition, all the parts (including the female characters) are played by men and true to the limited resources that would have been available to prisoners, the costumes and props are simple but effective. Joe Madsen’s costume design did a great job blending past with present. The actors all wore prison uniforms with the addition of a hat, a jacket or at most an old curtain as a skirt.
Without sensitive handling, this story could easily become a camp drag show. Director Christopher Jewell seems to handle this deftly and never once did I fear that the characters would be belittled or caricatured by a performance. The play is funny, yes, but not one of the actors on stage gave anything but 100% devotion to portraying their parts honestly. There are some delightful stand-out performances.
The prisoner’s play takes place 40 years before, when homosexuality was much more taboo, and we follow young Simon, played by the excellent Michael C Robinson, and Vallier, played by Dustyn Moir as they explore their burgeoning sexuality. Moir and Robinson were lovely together and throughout the entire play, I was very drawn to their relationship on stage. They wade through the confusion of right and wrong feelings with passionate performances that I found to be incredibly engaging. Moir is especially adept at affecting his emotional exposure in a way that is sweet, but also deeply tragic. He is everything that resembles the fiery, uninhibited urgency of first love. Robinson’s ability to at once portray reticence, sexual hunger and longing is to be commended. I look forward to seeing him in more productions around town.
Jealousy drives the young Bilodeau, played by a frank and honest Jordan Fermstad, to start a malicious campaign to break up the love affair of Simon and Vallier under the guise of saving their souls.
Villier’s mother, a perceptive, albeit unstable woman, floats through the story on a cloud entirely her own, soaring gently from lucidity to quiet madness. One minute providing haven for her son and the next, planning for a grand future in Paris, which will never come. Patrick Lucey-Conklin was exceedingly lovely in his portrayal of the Countess. His mannerisms and speech, the tone of his voice and the stillness of his stature were elegant, royal and soft. Lucey-Conklin’s timing was wonderful as well, and in some moments, was incredibly funny.
Simon’s intended wife, Lydie-Anne de Rozier, was played by Nick Prelesnik. He juggled an excellently tricky balance between intelligent languor and mawkish sentimentality with a sharp tongue and barbed, spikey manner.
Over all, the play takes a little while to fall into place, since the action is slow the first hour and the pace is broken up between jumping back and forth between 1952 and 1912. The simple set, I loved the chains, is a perfect counterbalance to the slightly overblown romantic melodrama playwright Michel Marc Bouchard is known for. Local Jewell’s knack for taking risks and presenting thoughtful theatrical pieces has been a joy to watch over the last few years and Lilies or the Revival of a Romantic Drama is no exception.
By Jennifer Nöel Klouse