887 Murray Avenue, Quebec City, Canada.The apartment block where the play’s main – and only – character actually grew up becomes alive, with the help of an incredible off-stage crew, in the form of a giant dollhouse.
Robert Lepage, who also wrote and directed this deeply personal, autobiographical play, invites us to join him on a journey into the realm of memory. On the way, he revisits his childhood home; shares anecdotes about his friends and family; commemorates names of parks, streets and monuments – places often forgotten or no longer noticed; recalls Charles De Gaulle’s call for a Free Quebec, the time he famously ended his July 24, 1967 speech with a loud and clear ”Vive le Québec libre!”, in Montreal.
The same words that were used as a slogan by Front de Libération du Québec, the separatist group that had launched a series of terror attacks in 1963, a campaign that culminated with the kidnapping and killing of Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, in October 1970.
The trip starts with a struggle: Lepage is invited to recite ”Speak White”, a poem by the Quebecoise Michèle Lalonde, in an evening commemorating the anniversary of a poetry event that first took place in Montreal, in 1970. But, for reasons that he cannot explain, the more he tries to memorize the worlds, the more they elude him.
So he turns to the method of loci, an ancient technique in which the items to be remembered are placed in specific places (”palace rooms”) one associates with past experiences or childhood memories. In order to retrieve them, all Lepage had to do was revisit the right ”palace room”. And we were only too happy to follow him along.
”Speak White” refers to the oppressive orders shouted at the enslaved across North American plantations, forbidding them to speak their own languages, incomprehensible to their masters. ”Speak White” was also used to shame francophone Canadians and force them to adopt the language of the British Empire.
The ”palace room” method worked; in the end, Lepage did recite the poem and it was powerful, emotional – flawless. Ironically, the most compelling performance we’d seen thus far in New York was by a francophone Canadian, translated into English.
Tell us again about Freedom and Democracy
We know that liberty is a black word
Just as poverty is black
And just as blood mixes with dust in the streets of Algiers
And Little Rock
All images by Erick Labbé.
887 @ BAM
March 25th, 2017