by Carol Fréchette,
trans. John Murrell
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
A North American woman, probably Québecoise, searches
the streets of a nameless Middle Eastern city for a faux-pearl
necklace she has lost. It soon becomes clear that the necklace
represents more to her than just a piece of jewelry. In the midst
of some profound personal crisis she hopes that finding the necklace
might help restore the missing pieces of her life. But Helen
finds something much different than she bargained for, as she
meets various inhabitants of this city wracked by violence and
losses greater than she could ever imagine.
Playwright Carol Fréchette
seems to specialize in narcissistic middle-aged women whose self-obsession
becomes a vehicle for deeper understanding. Fresh
from last year’s triumphant production of Fréchette’s Elisa’s
Skin, Pi Theatre director Del Surjik has once again given us an exquisite treatment
of her work in John Murrell’s excellent colloquial translation. Though
Helen’s Necklace doesn’t trust its own intelligence enough to avoid
becoming over-explicit, it delivers important ideas in elegant theatrical form.
(Elizabeth McLaughlin) tells her story as she cruises through the city with
taxi driver Nabil, played by Sanjay Talwar who morphs into all
locals. At first Helen seems the classic ugly North American, ignorant of local
language and geography, bitching about the heat, the traffic, the music. But
when she asks a man about her necklace and he tells her about his loss—his
house bombed to rubble one night—her consciousness begins to alter.
sympathy and understanding dawn more clearly in a powerful scene with a woman
in full burqa searching for her son’s red rubber ball. While
tremendously moving, the scene doesn’t allow us full emotional identification
with the woman because she is played by the obviously male Talwar. So instead
of being allowed to indulge in pathos, we’re forced, like Helen, to think
about what it means.
Unfortunately, Fréchette then seems to lose faith in
ability to understand implications. A man who has lived his whole life
in a refugee camp expresses his despair in slogans. He demands
that Helen repeat, “We
cannot go on living like this.” Confronting her Western liberal guilt,
she then explicates what it has all come to mean for her. I agree that
we ignore the suffering of the Third World, but overt didacticism rarely
McLaughlin is fine as Helen. That hers is not a bravura
performance works perfectly; she is not the story but just a filter for
that of others. Talwar
does a wonderful
job in every role, differentiating them subtly, adding humour where necessary.
Boris Sichon provides remarkable live music and percussion on a range
of exotic instruments and is beautifully integrated into the
flow of movement
David Roberts’ functional set, a series of stone forms covered by
a diaphanous veil, standing for ruins both ancient and contemporary.