Michel Tremblay is arguably Canada's best playwright and one of the world's great queer writers. Oddly, this play marks his first appearance at Canada's largest queer theatre. The reasons for his neglect are not easy to explain, but the clues are there.

Through the 80s and 90s, Toronto's theatre scene was a jealously guarded and highly competitive fiefdom. At the time, Tremblay was already a big enough name that his work overshadowed that of lesser artists. As well, he'd secured support at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre and because of that he may have seemed too mainstream for an indie theatre like Buddies. Last, but no means least, were his separatist leanings: he didn't like his work to be performed in English, however much English Canada showed a willingness to embrace him.

All of that aside, it's a pleasure to see his work again. He brings a glow and warmth to the lower-class Montreal neighbourhood he writes about in a way that makes Quebec culture charming to those of us who might otherwise find it an enigma. (He would hate that, of course, preferring to remain an enigma to the English "elite." Tant pis!)

Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary is Tremblay in his prime. Anger, irreverence and blasphemy crack open the facades of two bitter spinsters: the in-your-face drag queen Sandra and the religious fanatic Manon, neighbours in east-end Montreal, both of whom have quarrels to pick with the world and God.

Coming out of the theatrical revolution of the 70s, where traditional dramatics were being abandoned for a more declamatory style, Tremblay created a series of monologues for his characters to reveal themselves. With minimal onstage action, the drama is all in the words. The contrasts are jarring and explosive, with Manon describing her attempts, sometimes humorous and sometimes frightening, to purify herself for the coming of the Virgin, while Sandra narrates her efforts to purify herself for the arrival of her lover ... dressed as the Virgin.

The result is a mesmerizing collision of values and beliefs, with an apotheosis as moving as the descent into madness of Blanche DuBois, and hinging on a turn of phrase as slight as "the kindness of strangers" was to that femme.

In this production, Richard McMillan as Sandra almost literally takes flight, using little more than Tremblay's words to achieve lift-off, as the abused and misunderstood Sandra reveals her true nature beneath her gaudy fingernail polish and grotesque sexual fantasies. Meanwhile, Irene Poole gives us an emotionally stunted and frustrated Manon, groping blindly in her desperate attempts to find salvation in denying her human urges, while behind them a giant image of the Virgin Mary bleeds into view, overarching everything.



Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary. A Pleiades Theatre Production, translated and directed by John Van Burek, at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. Running until February 2, 2014.


For Joni Mitchell fans, there is a rare treat in the December 2013 issue of Uncut Magazine. Known for revealing herself mostly through song, she seldom does so in print. In a remarkably unguarded and candid interview with Q's Jian Ghomeshi, Mitchell spouts some highly quotable comments on her pop superstar status ("We need goddesses--but I don't want to be one."), on celebrity ("...fame is a series of misunderstandings surrounding a name."), on her ego ("I'd rather have a real arrogance than a false humility."), and the creativity of van Gogh ("It's a lie so you see the truth.") The piece is refreshingly brash and fun and outspoken, even when she sounds cranky and curmudgeonly--which is often, but it's also when she is at her most entertaining and revealing. Enjoy this intimate moment with one of the greats.


All materials on this website copyright 2007 Design by Transform Interactive .\\edia