Portal Players Dramatic Society’s new season is all about the women. And it got started Thursday with opening night for Les Belles Soeurs, a play by Montreal writer Michel Tremblay.
Les Belles Soeurs, which debuted in Montreal in 1968, was Tremblay’s first professionally produced play. Centred around a working-class woman and her friends and initially written in joual (a dialect of Canadian French), Les Belles Soeurs stirred up controversy among the straight-laced, deeply religious society of mid-20th century Quebec. Critics have called it “a tart but human satire on Canadian life and aspirations.”
Directed by Derek and Deb Burke and produced by Brent Ronning, Les Belles Soeurs is a story about Germaine Lauzon, a Montreal housewife who won a million Gold Star food stamps which need to be stuck into little booklets and exchanged for goods like barbecues and lawn chairs. Germaine has invited all the women she knows to help her stick her stamps into the booklets.
As they fill the booklets, the women talk about the men in their lives, the church, their frustrations and their small joys.
The dialogue is riveting, said Ronning, particularly some of the soliloquies presented by central characters.
Aside from two musicals undertaken by Portal Players over the past few years, this is the largest cast seen onstage, with 15 women. “It’s a really large cast,” Ronning said. “It’s quite exciting because it brought a lot of new blood and energy and skills to the theatre.”
Cast members range from photographers to writers and former flight attendants. “It’s a broad snapshot of the women of Port Alberni,” Ronning said.
“They all have their own stories, just like this play. Women’s stories are powerful; they carry a lot of meaning to everybody. I think that’s why this is a special play.
“It’s sad and tragic and horrible and funny, but it’s very true.”
The amateur theatre company purposefully chose plays this season that centre around women, Ronning said, as part of a plan to attract new blood to the theatre. So far, it has worked: half of the cast of Les Belles Soeurs have either limited experience or have never performed onstage before.
Suzanne Levasseur, who plays the leader character, Germaine Lauzon, is one of those relatively new faces. Levasseur’s daughter Randi was one of the lead characters in The Rocky Horror Show, and her husband Denis also had an important role. Levasseur joined the chorus.
“Suzanne found her way onstage in Rocky just so she could spend time with her family,” Ronning said.
“She’s only been in The Rocky Horror Show as a chorus singer and now she’s a very powerful person on stage.”
Having such a good mix of veteran and novice actors was a good challenge. “It actually was an opportunity for more experienced actors to help and support the newer actors onstage,” Ronning said.
“You can feel the energy between those characters because the women themselves have become quite dependent on each other in the production.”
Les Belles Soeurs runs for three weeks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30p.m. from now until Dec. 3 at the Capitol Theatre, 4904 Argyle St. The box office is open two hours before the start of each performance.