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Sophistication is the ability to approach culture
with the minimum amount of anxiety.
Northrop Frye.



JAN. 18 - LE JOURNAL D'ANNE FRANK directed by Lorraine Pintal

The story of Anne Frank occupies a special place in the Canadian context. This country’s connection to the Dutch struggle against the Nazis and its granting of asylum to the Dutch Royal family have forged a deep bond. Though not among his renowned works, French author and playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s Le Journal d’Anne Frank is not only an homage to young Anne’s hopeful vision for the world, it is also a meditation on loss, memory and paternal love. It is therefore all too fitting that Schmitt’s play see its North American première here at Montréal Théatre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) in the year that will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict that saw millions of lives extinguished.

The play opens on a frantic Otto Frank (Paul Doucet) waiting at the station amidst the flux of displaced people flowing back into the Dutch capital. Survivor of the camps, he makes a daily pilgrimage to the station in desperate hope to reunite with his daughters Anne (Mylène St-Sauveur) and Margot (Kaisa Malinowska). Each day he returns dispirited to his company office where his longtime assistant, Miep Gies (Sophie Prégent), attempts to keep hope alive. It is not long before we learn of Anne and Margot’s deaths. This sends him into dark grief. Trying to console him, Miep gives Otto Anne’s diary, one she had locked in a drawer following the family’s arrest.

Thus begins the main propos of Schmitt’s play. Otto struggles to reconcile with his loss through peaks into Anne’s diary. Each part he reads stirs vivid memories of the family’s exile in the ‘Secret Annexe.' However, he discovers much more: a daughter’s love for her father, her thoughts, dreams impressions, desires -- an overwhelmingly personal and honest account of her experiences. Not only is Otto forced to accept his youngest child’s death, he must also confront and accept her Self, her womanhood, her unique vision of the world that clashes completely with his loss, rage and grief.

Director Lorraine Pintal bravely tackles this tension and dichotomy at the heart of Schmitt’s work, perhaps best exemplified by the play’s excellent stage design, which delineates space on two levels, the company office in the foreground, and the Secret Annexe on a platform above and behind it. These two spaces animate the two worlds of past and present, memory and reality, allowing them to exist simultaneously on stage and flow into each other to haunting effect. The focus of the play is Otto’s rediscovery of Anne through her diary. His readings in the diary trigger memories that appear on stage as visions. This is especially poignant in scenes where Anne takes up Otto’s reading, leaving him frozen on stage gazing up as his memory materializes above. Pintal’s team succeeds spectacularly in conjuring up these space-time shifts through sharp, carefully-timed direction, use of multi-media and a powerful score composed by Québec artist, Jorane.

Mylène St-Sauveur delivers a convincing adolescent Anne whose strong personality and girlish frivolity often clash with those around her. Particularly touching are scenes in which Doucet’s ‘Otto’ realizes that his little girl has a private life of desire well beyond her father’s control. Though Doucet shines in these moments of being whisked away to another time and place, his portrayal of Otto in the Annexe is somewhat blander. While Schmitt’s play provides plenty of avenues for comic relief, Pintal mostly uses the figure of Augusta Van Pels (Marie-Hélène Thibault) whose fussy, slightly hysterical character creates a locus for inter-personal conflict. Thibault’s somewhat over-the-top delivery is thankfully tempered by Jacques Girard’s laconic Hermann Van Pels who nicely fills out the bickering married-couple trope.

Overall, performances live up to the quality of the production and it is perhaps due to opening night jitters that lines don’t flow as smoothly as they could, with some small lapses in timing disrupting the effect of shifting time and space so evocatively created by the mise-en-scène. With a long run at TNM followed by an extended tour throughout the province, there is little doubt that these small details will be fully worked out.

Le Journal d’Anne Frank is perhaps not for everyone. The ever-present undercurrent of the Shoah -- a painful subject at any time -- is especially pertinent in this milestone year of sombre commemoration. It is therefore not in the spirit of mourning that the play should be seen but, rather, as a counterpoint to it -- a moment to ponder the fundamentally hopeful legacy of Anne Frank and her unshakable belief in inherent human goodness that would prevail over atrocity and war’s madness.

For further information about events connected with the production, please visit and

Photos© Christopher Mancini



The challenge of a soundtrack, it seems, is twofold. It must adequately evoke the visual and narrative elements of the work to which it is tied and it should also operate as an independent, cohesive work in absence of the visual dimension in which it serves multiple functions. Jorane’s unlikely second album of 2014 was never intended to tackle the second challenge. It was originally conceived as part of the TNM production of Éric Emmanuel Schmitt’s 2012 play. Nevertheless, the album’s creation is intimately connected with the conception of the play -- so much so that each work of art indelibly inspires the other.

Jorane has previously worked with Le Journal d’Anne Frank director Lorraine Pintal on the production of Albertine en cinq temps, in which the music played a minor role. After Pintal approached her about Le Journal, Jorane read the play several times. Profoundly inspired by the tragic figure of Anne Frank, she was immediately drawn to the project. From the outset, she was invited to participate in the readings and worked closely with the production design crew to integrate music more deeply into the narrative. Pintal’s vision, seemingly always open to collaboration, ultimately allowed music to shape the space of the play and vice versa.

The album Le Journal d’Anne Frank owes its very existence to Lorraine Pintal’s unequivocal embrace of Jorane’s music. It was after all Pintal who contacted label Spectra and pitched the album idea.

Such an interwoven conception therefore begs the question whether the album can exist as a cohesive work apart from the theatrical ground, which nurtured and shaped it. Jorane’s response is an unequivocal ‘yes’ in that the album project provided the space needed to follow and develop various ideas more fully than would have been possible otherwise. Using the themes present in the play as points of departure, Jorane creates thematic layers that repeat and evolve throughout the album. This ultimately creates a unique narrative logic allowing the listener to interact with the music whether or not she has seen the play.

Jorane’s work on Louis Cyr: L’homme le plus fort du monde (Daniel Roby, 2013) is a milestone experience for the artist, one she sees as key in enabling her to develop the orchestrations for Le Journal d’Anne Frank. Work on the film also allowed her to use tools she would not normally use in her solo work. The result is an excellent orchestration that harnesses Jorane’s trademark minimalism; the soundscapes are often wistful, contemplative and at times playful. Though there are clearly dark undertones given the nature of the story, the music never plunges into despair, focusing rather on themes of memory and love of life. Le Journal d’Anne Frank features Jorane on cello and voice, and Vanessa Marcoux, on solo violin, accompanied by the accomplished strings of the Quatuor Orphée. Colin Gagné’s sound design for the play is woven into the soundtrack and adds not only greater depth and texture, but also provides (rather ironically) a supplementary narrative context allowing the music to soar far beyond the stage. The result is a moving, haunting, beautifully orchestrated and played homage to a figure that lies at the very heart of Jorane’s inspiration. Currently available online and at the Théatre du nouveau monde until February 7th, 2015.

Photos © Christopher Mancini


JAN. 13 - JOHNNY LEGDICK: A ROCK OPERA, Jimmy Karamanis, Jonah Carson, Elijah Fisch, Macleod Truesdale, Tyler Miller

Previously seen at the 2014 Montreal Fringe Festival, Johnny Legdick: A Rock Opera brings together the collaborative talents of independent theatre company, Playwright Hero, and Montreal acoustic rock trio The JEM.

Well-worn dramatic devices animate the plot of this musical play whose strength lies predominantly in well directed and cleverly written musical numbers. We follow the struggle of a group of freaks in a circus run by the tyrannical Suckadacocka Lickadagravy (Tadzeo Horner-Chbib). The arrival into the fold of Johnny Legdick (Colin Macdonald) -- cursed with a third leg in place of his penis -- revives an ancient prophecy that casts Johnny as a Moses figure destined to lead the freaks out from bondage. First though, he must realize his true love of Hannah Handvag (Arielle Palik), who, you guessed it, has a hand in place of a vagina!

The fun at the core of this spectacle lies in the diffuse talents of the cast and crew. JEM member and co-writer Jonah Carson appears as ‘Triclops Boy’ in the Chorus of freaks. Co-writer Jimmy Karamanis directs the production and plays in the Johnny Legdick band along with fellow co-writers, Tyler Miller, [Musical Director] Macleod Truesdale and [JEM member] Elijah Fisch. Regrettably, Johnny Legdick’s heavy musical focus also undermines its dramatic and narrative integrity. While the Chorus seems well directed (and often riotously funny), other players seem to have been left to their own devices, with much of the action and dialogue appearing improvised. Although Arielle Palik’s rich vocal depth and physical talent are undeniable, her ‘Hannah’ is a mite frenetic, with nervousness to her body language that could use more focused expression. Similarly, Tadzeo Horner-Chbib may have missed his opportunity to fully flesh out the complexity of ‘Suckadacocka,’ whose diabolism is a little too shrill to be either funny or unnerving. Travis Martin as ‘Steve the Steed’ triumphs as the equine foil to Colin Macdonald’s reluctant hero ‘Johnny,’ and both actors’ presence and talents bring the play much-needed dramatic heft. Criticism notwithstanding, given that this production has its roots in fringe, it is nevertheless a mighty effort by a group of talented musicians and actors and one that is ultimately entertaining to behold.

See Johnny Legdick: A Rock Opera at Centaur Theatre’s 18th Annual Wildside Theatre Festival, January 7th to 17th, 2015.


WINTER SLEEP, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
[film review] Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Winter Sleep is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film set in the windswept ‘steppes’ and sandstone formations of Cappadocia in central Anatolia, where inhabitants had carved out entire cities in in rock.

Former actor Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is proprietor of a picturesque, somewhat isolated, hotel carved into a hillside. Though one of the local elite, and owner of various properties, he prefers to leave business matters to his hotel manager, Hidayet (Aybert Pekcan), and occupy himself with more intellectual matters such as writing weekly columns in the local paper. His only other companions during the slow winter months are a few hardy tourists, his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen). A confrontation he witnesses between a tenant and Hidayet leaves him grasping for his moral compass and retreating to the sanctum of his study to write an article about the necessity for propriety, cleanliness and conscience.

As wealthy patriarch, Aydin is seemingly respected while also nearly absent in the community. He styles himself as beacon of morality and conscience and yet shows disdain for, and disgust with, humanity. Wealth has granted him the freedom to escape into his own system of banal morality, which he uses to judge others. This same privilege allows his immediate family to create their illusions and, in turn, judge him.

Winter Sleep is masterful but difficult; it lumbers -- perhaps matching well the pace of its main protagonist who shuffles about with a false sense of purpose -- and often stalls in scenes of tense discussion, dripping with resentment and deliciously cloaked in ulterior motive. Long shots and a static camera reveal an extraordinarily detailed mise-en-scène that is a joy to experience and fully justifies the film’s pacing. Exterior scenes of the region’s beautiful vastness hauntingly mirror the bleakness that we glimpse within.

Be forewarned that Winter Sleep is a heavily psychological film, whose central characters, albeit brilliantly portrayed, may not be very likeable. Ceylan is, however, non-judgmental in his treatment, allowing the audience to fully engage with the film on a fundamental level, which makes for an extremely touching, completely relatable experience despite the gulf of culture, time and space.



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