Michel Tremblay’s play, Les Belles-Soeurs, tells the story of 15 women during the Quiet Revolution — a time of great sociopolitical and cultural change that is set against the humdrum backdrop of working class Quebec.
Directed by the award-winning MFA candidate Diane Brown, Les Belles-Soeurs celebrates working-class women doing working-class things and all of the controversy that comes with it. The polemical play and its impact on Quebecois culture is still very much debated today. Despite its translation into English, the characters are still as multifaceted and controversial as they were during its inception.
“I think especially as a young woman, you don’t really get to play these honest people who are not afraid to be ugly ... and that’s liberating,” said actress Bronwyn Henderson, a BFA student in her final year. She will be performing the role of Germaine, the lucky character who wins a million gold stars and invites her friends and family to celebrate with her.
Given the current climate of the Canadian stage, the production is especially refreshing due to its featuring of 15 women without any male leads or male characters.
“Women in Canadian theatre may have over 50 per cent of the work, but less than 30 per cent of them have very visible roles that would be main players. The underrepresentation of women is really criminal in Canadian theatre. And in part, diversity is part of that whole conversation,” said Brown, who has an extensive history of showcasing women in her plays and was the recent recipient of the Bra D’Or award for her efforts.
Tai Grauman — another BFA student in her final year of her acting program — fully understands the importance of this. “A lot of us have had to play men for the majority of our degree ... it’s frustrating because where are our Canadian women?” she said.
The focus on women particularly in this production paves the way for female relationships to be explored. Although centred around Germaine, the play is as much about her as the other 14 women who help in her celebrations. This means that all the women are showcased equally, with their own monologues and distinct characters.
“There’s always a male lead … whereas in this play, there are arguably leads, but also not really because there [are] 15 parts with an arc. But these women coexist in a space with each other,” said Grauman.
The set was designed by Nikolai Kuchin and Sarah Sako, two UBC architecture students. Based on the East Montreal area where Tremblay grew up in, the set primarily consists of a kitchen.
“The windows are too big, the appliances are too lumpy and the wallpaper is peeling — it’s a really lovely, iconic look through Tremblay's eyes as a child,” said Brown.
The play is supposed to serve as a window into Quebecois history, but ultimately, according to Brown, it is just as relevant today. Les Belles Soeurs is “a powerful illustration of our envy economy in action.”
Les Belles-Soeurs will be running from March 16 to April 1. Tickets are available online.