Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: Straight Jacket Winter is a play performed entirely in French.
The play opens the season for Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver’s only French-speaking theatre company, with new Artistic Director Esther Duquette at the helm. Duquette simultaneously plays creator, performer and subject, making Straight Jacket Winter beautifully vulnerable. In case you were wondering, yes, anglophones can absolutely watch the show without missing a beat.
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The piece gives the audience a glimpse into Duquette’s experience moving to Vancouver from Montreal with her partner Gilles Poulin-Denis. While simple in its narrative, Straight Jacket Winter was able to set itself apart from a sea of plays about starting anew, because of its biographical nature. It felt utterly honest in its presentation of their experiences, allowing us to connect with the performance on a refreshing level.
But Straight Jacket Winter was so much more than just a story about moving across the country. Its text covered the nuances of isolation, both as a new francophone in Vancouver and as a result of the endless rain. The audience was invited in, to look at a relationship with all of its joys and frustrations. It felt therapeutic in its examination and retelling of the couple’s story.
Beyond bilingual frustrations, the production also challenged the established theatrical scene in both its dialogue as well as the form itself. Duquette and Poulin-Denis function as narrators and technical operators in plain view of the audience. No attempts were made to make us believe in a film-like reality, which gave the performance a unique whimsy rarely seen. A projector and a record player were openly manipulated by the pair while Frederic Lemay and Julie Trepanier portrayed Poulin-Denis and Duquette, respectively.
The decision to separate themselves from their own tale gave way to some beautiful moments, particularly when the “fictional” world was able to bump up against the reality of the stage components. Specifically, a staged Skype call took place through the use of a camera and projector that was in plain view of the audience and controlled by Duquette herself. Straight Jacket Winter never tried to take us out of the theatrical space. In doing so, it allowed the audience to connect to the tale far more deeply than anything attempting temporary reality could.
I would be doing the play a disservice by not specifically advocating for English speakers to go see this show. The fact that we can walk into any business and know that we’re going to be addressed in our native language is a huge gift taken for granted by Canadians everywhere. Duquette and Poulin-Denis both seem to share this with French audiences, while also making an effort to inform the anglophone public about the problems with Canada’s bilingualism. It is a piece of theatre that truly exists for everyone to enjoy, learn from and relate to.
Straight Jacket Winter is incredibly successful in its pacing, its playful use of stage elements and its ability to evoke feelings about Vancouver that anyone who’s lived through a rainy season will know all too well. A love/hate letter to the city, its arts and its beauty, this isn’t just for French or English speakers. Straight Jacket Winter is for anyone and everyone who cares deeply for this city.
Where: 1555 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver
When: Until October 29, English surtitles on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays
Tickets: Through brownpapertickets.com, $26 students and seniors, $30 adults