One of the truly beautiful aspects of theater is how there are no set rules dictating the form that a play can take. The actors, directors, even the set designers are all able to mess around with different parts of a production to deliver a new and unique experience for the audience.
When you first walk in the cozy Theatre La Seizieme to attend Gilles Poulin-Denis and Esther Duquette’s semi-autobiographical production, A Straight Jacket Winter, you are greeted by actors Julie Trepanier and Frederic Lemay who are already in character as Esther and Gilles respectively.
You will also take notice of the minimalist setup of the stage, which consists of one raised platform and a couch. They do make considerable use of several different props, the most interesting one being an actual vinyl record player that is used at different points throughout the play.
The basis of the play follows Esther and Gilles’ transition from living in Montreal to Vancouver. It starts out lighthearted enough, poking fun at the differences between the two cities such as the insane amounts of yoga classes available and of course, the fact that it never (ever) stops raining in Vancouver.
Concerning Montreal, they opt for the classic jokes that every Montrealer will get, including the literal shit ton of snow the city gets each year and the fact that the transit system runs so terribly that it's as if it's being controlled by a toddler.
A unique aspect of the play that is important to mention is how the characters are portrayed. Gilles Poulin-Denis and Esther Duquette act as their own narrators and are responsible for about half of the total dialogue of the play. Julie Trepanier and Frederic Lemay remain on stage the entire 90-minute show (no intermission) and interpret the narrations of Gilles and Esther.
Now, if you haven’t guessed by now, this play is presented in French. If you choose to brush off seeing this because you haven’t taken a French class since the ninth grade, then that is your loss. The language barrier is not something that should be worried about because Theatre de la Seizieme has employed a subtitle system in which the English translation of the script is displayed on a rectangular screen above the stage.
As the title alludes to, eventually the play takes a darker turn which that closely resembles the storyline of L'Hiver de force by French-Canadian author Rejean Ducharme. Ducharme’s novel is mentioned multiple times throughout the play, tying itself into the central theme of the piece. The novel itself comes from the psychological thriller genre that became popular throughout the ’60s and ’70s in French literature.
The play provides an interesting and especially immersive take on the struggles of relocating to a city with a completely different culture and set of values. Those in attendance don’t necessarily have to be well versed in either Vancouver or Montreal culture to appreciate the play for what it is. There are so many different pieces of different cultures mixed into the work — be it national, provincial or varying artistic cultures — that you are bound to grasp on to one thing or another that is familiar.
If you fall into the small category of young adults that have just moved from Montreal to Vancouver — such as myself — then you are in for one hell of an introspective and psychological trip, considering the fact that every single idea or detail mentioned in the show is something that you instantly recognize.
A Straight Jacket Winter is more than worth the 90 minutes and money you will give up to see it. After watching a play, I will typically go home and pretty much forget everything about what I just spent two hours watching. After seeing A Straight Jacket Winter, I could not get what I had just seen out of my mind no matter how hard I tried. It's that good.