Reading 2: Fendre les lacs (Split [chop up?] the lakes), Steve Gagnon
Up at 2:30 pm on Friday, a Montréal play, so, close to my heart. I didn’t know the writer, but he’s very gifted. An interesting experience: at the beginning I absolutely adored the play. Super powerful and funny, beautifully acted with total commitment and intensity. Like most plays I think we’ll find in this festival, it lands quite some distance from U.S. realism, but in this case, it’s not the sort of intellectual non-naturalism of the German play last night – this lives in a more heightened poetic, absurdist landscape. I AM AWARE that this sounds terrible, but it’s actually terrific.
The play seems to be set in some version of a lake community, where a small group of people have been living for a generation or more in a small group of cabins. So already it’s a good space for things to be trippy and imagistic, but still understandable human dynamics. Some of the exchanges are just breathtaking. And did I say funny? Much of it was very funny and at the same time heartbreaking, and very recognizable.
The author directed his own reading, unusual in this festival, and I’m not sure it’s always a great idea though it’s always interesting to see. Here it worked. He used the space very inventively and, for example, used a lot of underscore music, which was effective (where in my stereotyped feeling, many playwright/directors might not, thinking “my monologue provides all the music it needs by itself!”)
On the other hand, The play turns at a certain point and becomes quite dramatic— horrifying past secrets revealed kind of thing— and here Gagnon seemed to make a really bad choice, with many actors simply shouting at one another for pages on end. I want to be clear here that these actors are extremely extremely skilled performers – this wasn’t cheap shouting, it was deeply felt and cost them a lot – the trouble is, I felt myself turn off, and I felt a large part of the audience turn off as well.
In the talkback, the moderator called Gagnon to task for this, and he implied that he had run out of time in rehearsal, but that he preferred an under-rehearsed actor to at least really go for it. Fair enough. In any case, though I didn’t love the turn to melodrama in this one (even without the shouting) I’m excited about Gagnon as a writer— he mentioned in the discussion that he has several other plays, and that he’s moving in a more accessible direction. So I hope to read some of his other work.