Every once in a while, a theatrical production’s stars–pun intended – align in an instance of absolute synergy, one that allows audience members to be transported outside of themselves and into the mind of another, at least for an hour or two. TNC’s season-opening performance of Albertine in Five Times achieved just this, a feat that was likely challenging considering the premise of the play.
Written by Montreal native and internationally celebrated playwright Michel Tremblay, Albertine is a portrait of a working class Quebecker woman who encounters five versions of herself at different stages of her life. As the many faces that constitute her being come together to discuss (and at times bicker) about their past and present selves, it is made clear that Albertine is a woman plagued by her inconsistencies.
Director Zoe Erwin-Longstaff and the members of her cast convey the intricacies of Albertine’s identity in their translated rendition of Tremblay’s play. As the multiple Albertines interact with one another, one cannot help but admire the seamlessness with which the leading ladies click and clash. Each Albertine wants to tell her own version of the same story and endeavors to rewrite her past accordingly. Indeed, the cast successfully evinces the dissimilarities between the five versions of Albertines, while simultaneously managing to convey the oneness that binds all of these individual facets into a single and complex woman.
The cast and director also broach the topic of Albertine’s femininity with a delicate kind of strength. Audience members are prompted to peek into the mind of a woman who lives on the threshold of two extremely different worlds. One version of herself struggles to fit the socially enforced mold of female domesticity and motherhood that has been imposed on her. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an older Albertine chooses to resist social expectations, archetypal of the new and empowered woman that emerged in the Revolution Tranquille. In this all-female cast, each actress exhibits a vulnerable strength and gives her own personal meaning to the concept of femininity.
In this same vein, it is also interesting to note that each manifestation of Albertine shows – sometimes subtly and other times quite forcefully – her own personal dissatisfaction with what it meant to be a female Quebecker during the 1940s. Although she changes a significant amount over the forty-odd years that are represented in the play, a stifling amount of frustration and rage pervades each actress’s embodiment of Albertine. The many Albertines leave the atmosphere of the theatre charged with their haunting lamentations about the dangers of men, child rearing, and loneliness. As secrets are progressively revealed about the distraught woman’s past – Arlen Aguayo-Stewart’s and Rachael Benjamin’s heart-wrenching monologues were particularly striking – audience members will likely find themselves rehashing these moments of revelation even after they leave .
TNC’s decision to launch their fall season with Albertine in Five Times was extremely effective. Audience members are invited to step into a realm that is already familiar and tangible to them, for the action of the play is set in the heart of Montreal. However, the antiquated way that certain topics such as women’s rights and social expectations are treated in the play is alienating for audience members. It encourages viewers to reconsider and appreciate the changes that have occurred in the fabric of Canadian society – changes that we all quite readily take for granted. As the play comes to a close, the five versions of Albertine, dissimilar in practice but joined together in essence, look up at the same rising moon. In this moment, viewers may come to the staggering realization that there is a part of each version of Albertine that they can relate to. If this doesn’t constitute an instance of theatrical star-alignment, I don’t know what does.