NOVEMBER 2021 | Volume 209
The Ballad of Georges Boivin
by Martin Bellemare, trans. Jack Paterson with Johanna Nutter
Western Gold Theatre
PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero St.
www.westerngoldtheatre.org or 604-363-5734
For its first in-person show since COVID began, Western Gold Theatre links up with Jack Paterson, a Vancouverite who has essentially travelled the world over the past two decades proselytizing for and translating Québécois plays, to present the English-language premier of Quebec playwright Martin Bellemare’s The Ballad of Georges Boivin. Paterson directs the play he co-translated with Johanna Nutter.
Western Gold is a company dedicated to giving opportunities to senior artists and producing plays that involve themes of aging. This work directly reflects their mandate. Two of our most distinguished senior actors, Jay Brazeau and John Innes, perform this monologue in alternate shows. I saw Brazeau in the role.
The play is about a quixotic cross-Canada journey taken by Georges Boivin and three of his male friends. Georges narrates. He’s a 77-year-old widower. His beloved wife of many decades, Germaine, has been dead a year. In his grief, Georges decides to drive across the country to visit the only other woman with whom he ever had a relationship, his first girlfriend from fifty years earlier, Juliette. He has only a Vancouver address for her from that time. But he convinces three of his Montreal buddies, ranging in age from seventies to nineties, to accompany him in a borrowed car.
They make it to Vancouver and Georges manages miraculously to find Juliette. I won’t give away anything more. Western Gold’s motto is “Creativity has no expiry date,” and the play illustrates how love and desire have no age limit or time limit either.
Jay Brazeau is a charming actor. He brings Georges alive, finds the comedy in Bellemare’s script, and nicely delineates Georges’ friends, especially deaf Jean-Pierre and reluctant Clement. Joel Grinke’s video designs help orient the play in space. But the script never really took off for me. Nothing much happens on the trip, then suddenly the realism turns magical. As a man nearly as old as Georges, I was open to his insights into love and aging, but I didn’t find them particularly penetrating.
Not every play about an older man has to be King Lear. But senior actors deserve rich, complex, multidimensional characters and stories. Georges Boivin’s epic journey to keep the spark of love alive in him has that untapped potential. In Tom Stoppard’s Amadeus, the Emperor complains that Mozart’s symphony has too many notes. Georges’ ballad ultimately has too few of them for me.
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