Players’ Theatre’s Forever Yours, Marie-Lou is a nod to Montreal’s unique cultural history, but also to every audience member whose family is a little dysfunctional. Be forewarned: the show runs for an intense ninety minutes with no intermission, so be sure to take a deep breath before diving in.
Forever Yours, Marie-Lou, written by Michel Tremblay, is a Quebecois spin on the kitchen sink realism that dominated Anglophone theatres in the mid-twentieth century. The play is structured as two parallel vignettes of a family in a working class borough of Montreal: a husband and wife arguing on a Saturday morning in the 1960s, and their two daughters convening in the same spot ten years later. The younger sister, a free spirit named Carmen (Liana Brooks), confronts her older sister, the staunchly devout Manon (Eléa Regembal), about their parents’ deaths ten years prior. Manon has spent the past ten years as a shut-in in their childhood home while Carmen opted to sing cowboy songs at a rodeo bar. She insists that she has freed herself of the “sh*t” of their past (as it is referred to in the play) and urges Manon to do the same. Simultaneously, the sisters’ parents share the stage, but not the same temporal space, with them, ostensibly having the last argument they ever were to have. Marie-Lou (Hope Kelly) and her husband Leopold (Andrew Young) verbally spar with one another on their last living day, revealing just how deeply crippled their relationship is.
The director, Katherine Kellner, takes a straightforward approach with the staging, allowing the play’s powerful dialogue to dominate the performance. Since Players’ is an English-speaking theatre, the cast performs a translated version of the script. In place of Joual Quebecois accents, they adopt an informal, slang-ridden parlance to capture the essence of the original tone. Kellner draws the stage into four quarters—a realistic kitchen (complete with garlic cloves hanging on the cabinet), a bedroom, a kitchen table, and an armchair in the living room—all coming together to create the cramped apartment at the centre of the characters’ conflicts. Each character’s costume seems to match “their” part of the apartment: Marie-Lou’s florals with the drapes in the kitchen, Leopold’s denim work shirt with the armchair’s upholstery, Carmen’s cowgirl outfit with the kitchen table (the area closest to the exit), and Manon’s patterned blue skirt with the bedspread. The apartment, where all this trauma has occurred, is imbued in the characters’ appearances.
The problematic aspect of Forever Yours, Marie-Lou, is that the play is essentially two very long, very vicious arguments, with little emotional range written into the script. Without an intermission, the show is emotionally taxing. While I had read the play many years before and enjoyed it, I had forgotten how intense the subject matter was. There should be a content warning for theatregoers, since traumatic topics like rape and abuse are heavily featured. While I found my discomfort and anguish as an audience member manageable, others might find it overwhelming, and without an intermission for theatregoers to call it a night if they so wish, content warnings are a must.
Nevertheless, the cast ought to be lauded for their emotional stamina and commitment to the characters’ trauma. Young’s performance stands out as being the most nuanced. Leopold is an angry blue-collar man with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and some undetermined psychosis. It is also hinted very early on in the show that Leopold is responsible for something sinister, so the outbursts that punctuate Young’s performance are all the more unsettling. Whenever Young growls, there is a palpable flinch from the audience in response to his baritone voice. But there are moments, like the eerie calm before a storm, where Young’s voice is faint and his expression dreamy, which make for some of the most captivating moments of the show. Brooks and Regembal, as Carmen and Manon respectively, create the dynamism that is lacking in the dialogue through their physicality. Brooks saunters and struts around the stage, making big exalted gestures, while Regembal skitters awkwardly and rarely stops playing with her cross necklace. The actors give the talk-heavy show a little more visual variety.
What really matters, though, is that Forever Yours, Marie-Lou is about a family that is so thoroughly damaged that anyone, regardless of their experience, can find something to relate to. So, if you’re looking for catharsis, then grab some tissues, brace yourself, and hunker down for some emotional turmoil (and remember to pee before the show).
Forever Yours, Marie-Lou runs from November 16th-19th and 23rd-26th at Players’ Theatre (3600 rue McTavish, 3rd floor). Tickets are $6 for students and $10 for general admission.
Update (November 18): While the production did not have a content warning at the time of the press preview, there is now a content warning posted at the box office before the audience enters the theatre.