Everyone has a crazy aunt or uncle.
But in Serge’s case – the main character of Michel Tremblay’s “Bonjour, là, Bonjour” – he’s dealing with much more than just one loony family member.
The University of New Brunswick’s advanced drama production class is putting on Tremblay’s 1974 drama this week at Memorial Hall. Set in Montreal in the 1970s, “Bonjour, là, Bonjour” is a quirky drama about a dysfunctional but loving working-class family.
“I think the characters are so wonderful because they’re so real,” said artistic director Len Falkenstein. “We’re all looking for love at the same time and connections with people, so there’s just some very basic human things at the root of it all. Tremblay just kind of takes things and pushes them to the point where things are uncomfortable and we’re kind of squirming in our seats a little bit.”
The play follows Serge, a 25-year-old who has just returned from a three-month soul search in Paris. Serge’s family lives in Montreal and, being the baby of the family, he is often counted on to referee conflicts.
Falkenstein, the director of drama at UNB, said the class has been rehearsing for the show since the second week of November. The students completed an introductory course last year, and most in the class will go on to do a 24-credit drama minor.
“Our situation is kind of unique in the sense that this is a class doing this play and I have to find a play that works for the class,” Falkenstein said. “So there are some practicalities that come into effect – I’ve got to find a play that’s got the right number of actors, the right sort of gender breakdown, that sort of thing.”
The students are marked on their performance as well as every other aspect of the show’s production, like set building, costuming, publicity and poster design.
“When it comes to everything in total on the play, I’ve put about 40 hours a week into it over the past three weeks,” said second-year student Alex Donovan. “And we do every aspect, from going out to find furniture pieces to going out to find costumes and just sheer rehearsals every night, so yeah, it’s intense,” he said with a laugh.
“Bonjour, là, Bonjour” is staged in-the-round, meaning the audience surrounds the stage area. Serge sits in the center while his family members are on platforms around him. Falkenstein said it’s a bit of a strange play because many scenes take place at the same time.
Donovan plays Serge, who Falkenstein said is “metaphorically at the center of the family.” While Donovan’s performed in-the-round before, this show has been his most challenging yet.
“The problem is that all these different scenes are happening almost simultaneously, so sometimes you’re like, ‘I’m angry at Lucienne,’ but ‘I’m kind of feeling sad for Denise’ and ‘I’m pitying Monique,’” said Donovan. “By the end of it you’re exhausted. It’s only an hour and a half, but it feels like a long, long time that you’re up there. But it’s really rewarding.”
Falkenstein said he had always wanted to put on a play written by Tremblay, an internationally renowned Quebecois dramatist. The show was translated from French to English, but characters’ names remain true to their French pronunciation.
“Bonjour, là, Bonjour” depicts a young man struggling to make sense of his relationships with his family in a humorous, emotional and sometimes shocking way. Donovan said Serge’s relationship with his father – loving but unable to communicate with each other – and other characters struggles with weight and addiction could resonate with theatre-goers.
“I think even if some of them get extreme and they have their weird, cringe-worthy moments, everyone can relate at least some way to these characters and their problems.”
Theatre UNB presents “Bonjour, là, Bonjour” from Feb. 1-4 at Memorial Hall. Shows are at 8 p.m. nightly. Tickets will be available at the door and cost $10 for regular admission, $6 for students. Click here to see a trailer for the show.