Plays for Acadian Youth

  • Herménégilde Chiasson
    Pierre, Hélène et Michael suivi de Cap enragé. Prise de Parole (purchase at
Reviewed by Jane Moss

Two decades after these two plays were first performed for youth audiences by the Théâtre de l’Escaouette of Moncton in co-production with the Théâtre français of the National Arts Centre, Prise de parole of Sudbury, Ontario has made the texts available in print. The playwright is Herménégilde Chiasson, one of Acadie’s leading artistic and intellectual figures. Chiasson has devoted his career to creating a vibrant culture that represents modern Acadian identity and seeks to transcend without ignoring the traumas of the past and the social problems of the present. While his many plays for adults explore the lasting impact of the Acadian deportations on minority francophones in the Maritimes, in these two works he dramatizes the emotional conflicts of young people on the verge of adulthood, struggles that often end badly. His young characters seek romantic attachments to compensate for unhappy family situations and poor career prospects.

In Pierre, Hélène & Michael, a restless young francophone woman breaks up with her hometown boyfriend and takes off for Toronto with a bilingual anglophone who had recently moved to New Brunswick with his father after his Québécoise mother left the family. Michael is unhappy because he misses his mother, his old girlfriend, and the excitement of city life. Hélène sees in Michael the possibility of escaping from her community, which she describes as full of unemployed losers who spend their time whining. Unfortunately, Hélène does not find the exciting new life she dreamed of in Toronto and she spends all day in a small apartment because her English is not good enough to find a job. Michael is bored by his menial job and he starts seeing his old girlfriend. Hélène is forced to recognize that she has made a bad choice, but she cannot go back to her old life and boyfriend, Pierre. The last scenes take place five years later back in New Brunswick where Hélène encounters Pierre, who has married, become a father, and found a career in computer technology. The message of the play seems to be that leaving one’s community for romance and excitement can be a risk not worth taking.

Cap Enragé begins with the discovery of the corpse of a young man who died after a fall from a rocky seaside cliff. The ensuing police investigation explores the tangled relationships and troubled personal lives of four young people. Initially, the police suspect that Patrice, who was abused by his alcoholic father and has a history of petty crimes, pushed Martin out of jealousy. Then suspicion falls on Patrice’s girlfriend, Véronique, who in turn points the finger at the victim’s girlfriend, Sophie. In the end, Martin’s diary proves that his death was a suicide, but the betrayals and suspicions revealed during the investigation have undermined the young couple’s relationship as well as their respect for authority.

These plays are important to the cultural mission of theatre in minority francophone communities because they speak to adolescent problems in the language of contemporary high school spectators. It would be hard to argue that they are great works, but they do create opportunities for young Acadians to see drama represents their own community and personal concerns.

This review “Plays for Acadian Youth” originally appeared in Of Borders and Bioregions. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 218 (Autumn 2013): 150.

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