Partir ou rester

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La Queens © Suzanne O'Neill

To leave or to stay. The dilemma runs through much of Franco-Ontarian dramaturgy, including some of its most iconic texts: André Paiement’s Lavalléville (premiered in 1974), Jean Marc Dalpé’s Le chien (premiered in 1988), Michel Ouellette’s French Town (premiered in 1993), and, more recently, Louis Patrick Leroux’s Se taire (published in 2010). The kinship between these four plays has already been pointed out by Michel Ouellette, who notes in his preface to Se taire that they all feature “people trying to break away1",“people rebelling against their birthplace2”:

Louis Patrick Leroux’s Alexandra resembles Diane, in André Paiement’s Lavalléville, who wants to leave for Montreal (but stays in her village); Jay, in Jean Marc Dalpé’s Le chien, who returns to his home town after having criss-crossed America; and Pierre-Paul, in my own play French Town, who returns home with the idea of selling the family home and thus erasing the past3. [Transl.]

He concludes that “[t]he link between the writer and their environment (their community of origin or their current society) is always problematic4.”

Thirty years after writing Le chien, which earned him his first Governor General’s Literary Award (of three!), Jean Marc Dalpé revisits these themes in La Queens, his latest play, which premiered on January 15, 2019 at the Théâtre La Licorne in Montréal and was published the same year by Éditions Prise de parole in Sudbury. Two places that embody the main poles of the Ottawa-born playwright’s fictional universe and of his professional career, which took him to Northern Ontario—a space made mythical in part by his work—in the 1980s and then, nearly a decade later, to the Quebec metropolis.

Between a seedy motel on the edge of a railroad track, in a “fictitious place that could be somewhere on Route 11 between Smooth Rock Falls and Longlac, or on Route 101 between Folyet and Chapleau,” and a suite in “a grand luxury hotel in St. Petersburg,” two sisters as unlike as the places from which they speak confront each other through the daughter of one of them. At stake: the future of La Queens, the motel in question, which they have recently officially inherited.

On the one hand, there is Marie-Élisabeth, the older sister, an internationally renowned pianist. Having chosen to stay in Russia (where she is scheduled to give a series of concerts) despite her mother’s recent death, she has mandated her daughter Caroline to represent her as executor to liquidate the inheritance, i.e., sell the building. Her goal: to free herself from the weight of the past—somewhat like Pierre-Paul who, in Michel Ouellette’s French Town, wants to get rid of the family home. Like him, Marie-Élisabeth expresses herself in impeccable, decontextualized French, but without reciting the grammar rules and dictionary entries that Pierre-Paul has learned by heart.

On the other hand, there is Sophie, the younger sister, a former pop singer who chose to settle in the North, where she took care of her aging parents and her father’s motel. She has to convince her niece, a Montrealer who recently moved to Northern Ontario in the middle of winter, of the value of her inheritance. Sophie is a more recent version of Cindy (whose real name is Sophie), Pierre-Paul’s younger sister in Michel Ouellette’s work, who also opposes the sale of the family estate. Both Ouellette’s Cindy/Sophie and Dalpé’s Sophie speak a more oral, spatially anchored French that contrasts with the language of their respective elders.

La Queens is very consistent, not only in terms of Franco-Ontarian dramaturgy, but also in terms of Dalpé’s œuvre. The play picks up many of the recurring elements of his previous works: a complicated family history; a troubled relationship with memory and the past; an oral language punctuated with swear words and English; a junkie character; a disappointed (or not) American Dream; the father’s hunting rifle; an enclosed space in the middle of nowhere, the notorious Franco-Ontarian “(shit)hole” from which it is difficult to escape; not to mention the stunted conifers, the same ones that Jay recognized from the bus taking him back to Northern Ontario in Le chien and that made him say, “It’s starting to look like home around here5.”

Dalpé, who has often been associated with a masculine universe, a theatre of “Rogers”—to use the title of the play he co-wrote with Robert Marinier and Robert Bellefeuille in the 1980s—, takes a new tack in La Queens by presenting female main characters. These strong women, endowed with great willpower and a certain degree of influence, contrast with Jay’s mother, who is condemned to remain in the North and discover the world through postcards from her son. If Sophie, by staying in her home town, becomes her parents’ natural caregiver, it is by choice, as she explains to her sister: “You think I blame you for sacrificing myself during those years when I could have been somewhere else, but I don’t see it that way, because I was happy to do it, YES, HAPPY6.”

In these pandemic times, the dilemma between leaving or staying embodied by La Queens takes on a new resonance: while we are confined to our places of residence, which are sometimes located far from our communities of origin and our loved ones, we are witnessing the revenge of the regions, where life resumes its course more quickly than in the city.  

To learn more about La Queens,  visit the event page 


[1] Michel Ouellette, « Préface. “Faudra-t-il se taire alors?” », dans Louis Patrick Leroux, Se taire, Sudbury, Prise de parole, 2010, p. 11.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jean Marc Dalpé, Le Chien, Sudbury, Prise de parole, coll. « Bibliothèque canadienne-française », 2003, p. 85. 

[6] Jean Marc Dalpé, La Queens, p. 60.

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