We’ve all been troubled by nightmares, but Harlem, the central character in Rosa Laborde’s Hush, is more disturbed than most.
It’s his adolescent daughter Lily who’s having the bad dreams, and Harlem finds himself in the midst of them.
That leaves actor Graeme Somerville sorting out how to play a dream.
“It’s a complex thing to do,” admits Somerville. “The characters often live in a volatile atmosphere, one without the boundaries of a waking, rational world. Both thoughts and emotions slide suddenly in different directions. There are few anchors.
“It’s challenging and fun for an actor to make those switches, those about-faces, trans-dimensional right turns from one emotional reality to another.”
Playwright Laborde has proven, in a work like her earlier Tarragon play Léo, that she’s expert at tapping into people’s troubled emotions.
Harlem, though, struggles with more than bad dreams. Lily is growing up and moving away from him, and he’s also having problems with his girlfriend, Talia. Even his business partner and best friend, Andre, isn’t being as supportive as Harlem would like.
“Yet it’s Andre who tries to get Harlem on the right path,” notes Somerville. “If this story were a fairy tale, Joseph Campbell would see Andre as the catalytic figure who beckons the hero forth on his journey, suggesting the route to health and wholeness.”
The intellectual Harlem is one of those controlling parents whose -attempts to help Lily cause further anxiety for both.
“At the start, he’s trying to shield his daughter. His governing drive is an overprotective one. Over the course of the play he moves from parenting in front of Lily, leading and guiding her by the hand, to metaphorically working from behind her.
“From that position, he encourages her to go forward alone, meet the world and make her own choices.”
Moving from living solely in his head to reconciling his thoughts and his feelings, Harlem’s a different kind of character for Somerville to play after seven years at the Shaw Festival.
“It’s a real change of gears,” smiles the actor, “and it’s about more than working in a different period and style. “Shaw asks you to be intellectually sophisticated in your argument. Though there’s some emotion involved, there’s an organized, essay-like structure to his characters’ arguments.
“In contrast, the eloquence in Hush is emotional. Words can break down and rational thought can be put to the side. What Rosa’s written is an essay of the heart.”
Molière can be very funny, but in director Jean Stéphane Roy’s blend of several of the French master’s scripts, the laughs are sometimes too forced.
In Les Médecins De Molière, a French-language co-pro between Théâtre Français de Toronto and Ottawa’s Théâtre La Catapulte, Roy combines several Molière comedies that focus on love, trickery, doctors and old fools. His sources include Le Médecin Malgré Lui (The Doctor In Spite Of Himself) and Le Médecin Volant (The Flying Doctor).
Each of the production’s two central stories involves a young woman in love who rebels against her father’s insis-tence that she marry another. She gets her partner of choice by means of machination, disguises and help from clever servants.
In the longer first half, warring couple Sganarelle (Nicolas Van Burek) and Martine (cross-dressing Pierre Simpson) drive the action. Martine, to get revenge on her woodcutter husband, lets it be known that he’s a doctor who only admits his skills when he’s beaten.
That’s exactly what happens when Sganarelle is forced to tend to Lucinde (here, charmingly, a puppet operated by Sophie Goulet), the mute daughter of the demanding Géronte (Anie Richer, in male attire).
In the second, the elderly, nearsighted Gorgibus is tricked – with the aid of another fake doctor – into allowing his daughter Lucile to marry her lover, Valère.
Roy’s excellent cast appears as a travelling commedia troupe, their trunks not only containing costumes but also becoming parts of the set. The production style allows for lots of mugging, and Simpson’s expert at it, both as Martine and Gorgibus. The hyperkinetic Van Burek provides him with a good stage partner in the first half, while Goulet gives Lucinde a touch of sensitivity along with the jokes.
At times, though, Roy pushes the comedy too much or makes it needlessly heavy-handed repeating shtick doesn’t always win further laughs. The same is true of the verbal humour, often involving jabs at self-impressed physicians who spout pseudo-Latin nonsense a little goes a long way. And since there’s some editing of the text, why not cut back on the overlong reconciliation at the end of the second play?
There’s lots of fun here, but some trimming would have made the evening even better.
Performances on February 13, 19 and 20 have English surtitles.