Review: The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy

Maureen Beattie
Maureen Beattie
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NB: Each play is complete, but together they form a larger work. Jennifer Tremblay said her goal was to portray the head, heart, and stomach of The Woman’s experience.

The chief pleasure of these plays - and their chief treasure - is Maureen Beattie, whose performance is always stirring, even when the texts are not.

The John Byrne sets are also terrific, especially for The Deliverance.

ASSEMBLY ROXY, ROXBURGH PLACE

THE LIST * * * *

EXILED to a remote corner of Quebec, The Woman is driven mad by the claustrophobia and isolation of her provincial village. She copes with family life and her troubling thoughts by writing and rewriting lists. Sanity through severity, if you will. She is rigid, contained, and occasionally sniffy, but does make one good friend, only to fail her - fatally - at a critical juncture.

The play builds to its obvious but still terrifying crisis, but then Tremblay produces the strangest catalyst for this disaster: we’re asked to believe that the poster girl for obsessive compulsive organisational skills can’t instantly put her hands on her obstetrician’s number. With that, the play falls off a cliff. Luckily Beattie has the skill and likability to rappel herself, and the audience, to safety.

THE CAROUSEL * * * *

LIKE the carousel that gives this play its central image, Beattie whirls around with energy and passion playing the various members of a Canadian clan. her special talent is to ensure that we’re never made dizzy or confused.

Climbing steadily up the branches of her family tree is The Woman, seen as a confused child, an adulterous wife, and a daughter sitting vigil at her mother’s death bed. Throughout, she calls upon her (dead) maternal grandmother for guidance and answers. Unfortunately one of the mysteries bugging her is a complete non-starter for the audience, since it’s obvious what’s been afoot all along.

Of the three plays, this feels the most unhappily theatrical and unsatisfying, plagued by unnecessary business and erratic tempo changes.

THE DELIVERANCE * * * * *

THE mother is dying. Her devoted daughters are there by her side, but she is inconsolable: she wants to see her estranged son. It falls to The Woman to try and coerce him to visit.

This instalment reveals the story of The Woman’s childhood. She is devoted to her feckless and dangerous father, terrified by her mother’s outwardly respectable second husband, who is breathtakingly cruel behind closed doors.

Set in a church, The Deliverance sees The Woman railing against her heavenly father and his doctrines, uttering the arguments she could not use against her stepfather, and the frustrations she dared not acknowledge regarding her real father. The constant themes — death, childbirth, longing — are beautifully evoked in what is Trembly’s strongest play of the trio.

The List until 30 August

The Carousel and The Deliverance until 31 August