Culture  Student theatre at the MainLine

Last week, the annual Gala for Student Drama took place at the MainLine, an independent theatre on St. Laurent. As presented in the event’s pamphlet, the gala is “a project that offers student productions an opportunity to physically act on their visions in a professional setting.” For its third edition, the Gala chose to riff on Valentine’s Day, embracing a theme of “love stinks.” The show featured four plays, two in English and two in French, from students in various post-secondary institutions.

At the gala I met Mary Maynard from the local Factory Line Collective. Maynard has been running the show for two years with Ian Truman, her husband, and Jeremy Hechtman, former director of the MainLine. Maynard’s knowledge of the entertainment industry, acquired by working on a film set, enables her to be present in nearly all of the steps  of the event’s creation. Though relatively new, the event has proved popular. “It’s really emotional, because it’s our second night and it’s already sold out. We see [the project] growing up, and I find that really wonderful, in the sense that we see that there is an actual need for this kind of event.”

Sophie Daunais-Ouimet, author of Carrelage, as well as the play’s two performers, Noémi Lira and Pascale Labonté, are all students at Université du Québec à Montréal. Carrelage blurs the line between reality and fiction, and the distinction between the main character’s mind and the outside world. It tells the story of two acrimonious roommates, Mathilde and Fanny, when the latter accidentally dies in the bathroom. In a reference to Fanny’s death, Carrelage means “tiling” in French.

For the performers, getting in the skin of their characters was an intense experience. Lira said that “to be in Mathilde’s skin was to create a psychological block, a defence reaction against all emotions.” The anguished looks on the faces of audience members was a good indication of Carrelage’s effect. For her minimal-but-sufficient setting, Daunais-Ouimet placed a bath and shower curtains in the middle of the stage.

Also present at the Gala was The Carrier Pigeon Play, written by Julie Foster and directed by Michelle Soicher, both of Concordia University’s Fourteen to Never Company. Carrier Pigeon is an original and sadly hilarious exploration of the differences between men and women. It explores this ancient subject along the axes of expectations in love, finance, and time, through “the profound and intricate language of nonsense.”

Solstices, written and directed by Laurie Murphy from Cégep de Saint-Laurent, is a play about a couple living with the psychological consequences of losing a dear friend. The performance was heavy with anxiety, but the beauty of the relationship between two lovers amidst a personal tragedy overcame the more overproduced aspects of the work.

Finally, If Phones Could Talk, written and directed by Alyssa Harms-Wiebe from Concordia, is an amusing critique of the smartphone culture among the city’s creative class. Set in a restaurant, the play lampoons the damage these devices have wrought on the traditional conversation: two people are on a date, but one of them keeps texting. To make her point, Harms-Wiebe mounted a screen at the back of the stage, on which the texts sent by the character appeared in real time. The effect distracts the audience, a playful meta-technique that reveals fresh ingenuity on the part of the playwright.

In all, the Gala was a successful bilingual event that granted space to some of Montreal’s most talented young directors. Fitting, too, that this combination of English and French theatre should take place on the Main – the traditional boundary between anglo and franco Montreal.