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The Ballad of Georges Boivin: subtle and rewarding

by | Nov 12, 2021 | Review | 0 comments

production photo for The Ballad of Georges Boivin

John Innes: onstage for the first time in seven years (Photo by Javier Stores)

The premise is a cliché, but the execution is poetic and the insight genuine.

I used to sit on screenwriting juries and I was surprised by how many of the stories dealt with feisty codgers escaping from long-term care facilities. There wasn’t much of a pay-off in those scripts, but Martin Bellemare’s The Ballad of Georges Boivin is smarter.

The title character, who has been a widower for a year, sets off from his care facility in Québec with three pals: grumpy Gérard, tremulous Clement, and Jean Pierre, whom Georges describes as “my lifelong friend, a deaf old man who barely says a word.” But the quest belongs to Georges: he’s in search of his first love, Juliet Chacal, who moved to Vancouver decades earlier. The address he has for her is 50 years old.

Right off the top, there’s beauty in the language: “We jumped into the car like it was swallowing us up,” Georges says, “like it was hungry.”

This is a solo piece: on alternating nights, John Innes and Jay Brazeau are performing it in this Western Gold Theatre production. I saw Innes in a preview and his skill is a joy. Innes has been a working actor for 55 years and there’s a wonderful combination of ease and thoroughness in his technique. Innes not only differentiates all of the characters and voices, he inhabits every word. When he’s describing his first encounters with Juliet, for instance, there’s a big difference in the hauteur with which he pronounces the makes of her friends’ Ford and Buick and the frankness he reserves for his own Dodge.

There are downsides to the set-up: they’re driving from somewhere in Québec all the way to Vancouver and the script is relatively slow, meditative — and linear. You can’t help but clock the miles: “Are we only in Calgary?” There are glitches in logic and the script gets caught for too long in an eddy that feels like a dead end.

But it also continues to surprise. And there are moments of magic and even transcendence. I don’t want to give those away, but I will address the theme by telling you a personal story. (Theatre is interactive after all; this is part of what I brought to it.)

The Ballad of Georges Boivin is about an old guy — not much older than I am — trying to reclaim Eros (not in the strictly sexual sense, but in the sense of life force, vivacity, the potential of ongoing discovery) in the face of the grief that inevitably accompanies old age. Georges is still grieving his life partner, Germaine les Pomettes.

In my youth, I was wildly in love with a man named Anthony. We lived in different countries and neither of us ever had the courage or wherewithal to move. Anthony died a few years ago. Recently, I dreamt that his body was reanimated: someone else was inhabiting it. I started making love to that body, but realized he wasn’t in it, so it was pointless. That was grief. The climax of The Ballad of Georges Boivin is kind of like that — except it’s ecstatic.

I’m grateful to playwright Bellemare, who is young, for his insight into aging and to Western Gold Theatre for commissioning and presenting Jack Paterson’s English-language translation. With this piece, Western Gold is living up to its mandate of illuminating the experience of getting old.

Paterson has also directed; the leanness and subtlety of this mounting complements the text. The sleek video design is by Joel Grinke, the minimalist sound, which dips into magical realism, is by Stephen Bulat, and the subtle lighting is by John Webber.

The Ballad of Georges Boivin is an intimate — and rewarding — conversation about love.

THE BALLAD OF GEORGES BOIVIN By Martin Bellemare. Translated by Jack Paterson with Johanna Nutter. Directed by Jack Paterson. A Western Gold Theatre production at the PAL Theatre on Thursday, November 12. Running until November 28. Tickets.


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