There’s a quiet revolution brewing in French Theatre at the National Arts Centre. Artistic Director Wajdi Mouawad’s theme for the 2008-2009 season is “Nous sommes en guerre” — “We are at war,” which epitomizes his approach to art. He wants to wrench audiences out of their comfort zones with emotionally engaging theatre that challenges people’s worldview. The next stage of the battle has a clearly queer connection and will be accessible to francophones and anglophones alike.
This month, NAC French Theatre is showcasing Krum, with mise en scène by acclaimed gay Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski. “I wanted to bring in a show that I don’t have the right to bring in,” declared Mouawad at a recent press conference. Krum will be performed in Polish with French and English surtitles. It marks the first time French Theatre has ever presented a play in a foreign language — a reformation of sorts for an institution with “français” written into its very name. Mouawad sees theatre as an opportunity to experience first hand the realities of the cultural and linguistic other.
Indeed, Krum will require cross-cultural engagement. Written in the 1970s in Hebrew by the now-deceased Israeli playwright Hanokh Levin, the play has been translated into Polish and will be performed by Polish actors directed by a gay, Jewish compatriot, all brought to Ottawa by the Lebanese-born, Montreal-raised Mouawad for audiences that will be reading in French and English as the Polish washes over them.
Warlikowski is renowned for creating visually stunning theatre that packs a deeply affective punch but doesn’t spare the humour. The play has received rave reviews abroad and won an Obie (the Village Voice’s off-Broadway theatre award) for direction after showing at last year’s Bam Festival in New York.
Gay audiences will find Warlikowski’s credentials enticing. In 2007, he mounted Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in Poland and at France’s Festival d’Avignon. Also in 2007, he raised eyebrows with a modernized queer take on Tchaikovsky’s 1879 opera Eugene Onegin, which he directed for the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Type Warlikowski, gay, cowboys, Onegin into your favourite search engine and you’re sure to find some photos that will queer your experience of Opera Lyra’s more traditional production of Eugene Onegin this coming April.
Whatever the case, NAC theatre looks like the place to be over the next few months. Following Krum, the work of Robert Lepage, the gay québécois actor, writer, director who is easily Canada’s best-known theatre export internationally, is also on tap with Le Dragon bleu (in French) and The Blue Dragon (in English). Ottawa audiences can see plays by both between now and April.