ZONE by Marcel Dubé, directed by Jean Stéphane Roy (Théâtre Français de Toronto/Théâtre la Catapulte). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). To February 12, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday 3:30 pm and Sunday 2:30 pm. $33-$57. 416-534-6604. See listing. Rating: NNN
The dreams of youth can always engage an audience, whether the viewers are young or old.
Sometimes, though, there's a dated quality to the material, and that's what occurs in Zone, Quebec playwright Marcel Dubé's 1953 script about a young street gang living in a working-class neighbourhood. A co-pro between Théâtre Français de Toronto and Théâtre la Catapulte, the production has some strong emotional moments among gang members and some skilful staging, but it doesn't always hold up as gripping theatre.
Run by a young man who calls himself Tarzan (Nicolas Desfossés), the gang - Moineau (Dave Jeniss), Tit-Noir (Jean-Simon Traversy), Passe-Partout (Maxime Lavoie) and Ciboulette (Frédérique Thérien) - smuggles American cigarettes into Quebec. As a policeman (Richard J. Léger) who's hunting them down remarks, with a touch of grudging admiration, these lower-class people do all they can to improve their lot in life.
While we can understand that need for freedom, there's an old-fashioned feel to the writing, even in this revised text which cuts a police captain and reorganizes the material.
There's an unusual religious angle to the material, with Tarzan set up as a Christlike figure surrounded by his disciples and Passe-Partout as the Judas in the bunch, seeking for control of the gang himself.
Some of the actors create powerful characters under Jean Stéphane Roy's direction, notably Jeniss's slow-witted Moineau, a comic yet moving figure forever attached to his harmonica; Moineau's music-making is more expressive than his words. The initially nervous, tentative relationship between Thérien and Desfossés also rings true, as does their tenderness in the last third of the play; it's one of the few times the script's poetry works.
The middle scene, a series of interrogations conducted by the policeman, is nicely edited and paced; instead of a sequential series of interviews, it's presented as a series of intercut question-and-answers. Too bad that when the policeman grills Tarzan, the tension doesn't build as it should.
The French-language performance is subtitled Wednesday, Friday and both Saturday shows.