2 min

‘One feeling, one truth’

Language debate enmeshed with sexuality

One of the many striking images in The Dragonfly Of Chicoutimi is that of protagonist Gaston Talbot sucking on a white Popsicle.

The symbolism seems clearly phallic – until you talk to director Kevin Orr and actor Dennis O’Connor. They argue that pinning down this play’s symbols is not that simple. O’Connor suggests sucking a white Popsicle could equally be a metaphor for language.

Language and sexuality are the two primary themes seamlessly interwoven in this complex one-man work by Quebec playwright Larry Tremblay.

The story goes that Tremblay was eating smoked meat at Ben’s, a landmark Montreal eatery. As he perused the English side of the menu, he jotted down the phrase “I travel a lot.” It became the first line of The Dragonfly Of Chicoutimi, a play written in French but using English words. It’s not a translation, but a unique hybrid using French grammar and English vocabulary.

This is the first time the play has been put on since Tremblay directed Quebec star Jean-Louis Millette in the original critically acclaimed production which began its run in Montreal in 1995.

Both Orr and O’Connor, as it happens, are Quebec natives. O’Connor grew up in both official languages not far from Chicoutimi, and is well-known to patrons of the Théatre français de Toronto, a background that helps in bringing Gaston Talbot to the Factory stage.

Simple-minded Gaston has been silent for 40 years following a traumatic incident. He awakes from a dream to find he can speak – but only in English, a foreign language. He uses his newfound and imperfect idiom to let the audience in, little by little, on a guilty secret.

His digressions, lies and confessions seem to flow straight from a murky subconscious. He repeatedly comes back to the incident that struck him mute: The death of a friend while playing cowboys and Indians.

“He’s also revealing it to himself. As he gets deeper and deeper into it he comes to a truth that he may not have fully realized or expressed,” says O’Connor.

The actor talks with his hands, describing the character with francophone verve. “I see him as the kind of guy who’s the recipient of everyone’s derision and abuse. Yet he tells incredible truths in a simple poetic kind of way.”

Gaston’s unformed sexuality asserts itself when he talks about his childhood friend swimming naked in a stream, or recalls the homoerotic thrill of giving mouth-to-mouth.

“There’s also the sexuality he has with his mom,” adds Orr, “which is very Oedipal and very intimate. He never mentions his father.”

In this context, even the childhood pastime of cowboys and Indians becomes a metaphor for domination. But is the domination sexual, linguistic or political?

The push and pull of the English language on the Quebecois psyche is most often cited as the play’s raison d’être, but Orr maintains the different themes are so closely interwoven that separating one thread from another would reduce the piece.

“How do you separate politics from sexuality, from language, in this country? We can talk about them one at a time, but ultimately it does come down to one feeling, one truth, one expression, which is this 80-minute play.”

* The Dragonfly Of Chicoutimi.

$18-$25. 8pm. Tue-Sat.

PWYC. 2:30pm. Sun.

Wed, Jan 9-27.

Factory Studio Theatre.

125 Bathurst St.

(416) 504-9971.