Theatre Review: The Real World?
By Allan Gould
Jane Spidell, Meg Tilly, Matthew Edison and Cliff Saunders in The Real World? (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Whatever your feelings are about Conrad Black — genius, criminal, fine historian — you cannot deny that he had a way with words. He added to many vocabularies a few years ago when he was being interviewed and mentioned how, upon first seeing his future wife Barbara Amiel, his mouth “fenestrated” (a Latin-inspired way of saying it fell open).
I begin my review of Tarragon Theatre’s The Real World? with this recollection because my own mouth fenestrated through most of this 90-minute, intermission-less production. The acting is nearly all top-notch, but it is the play itself — by Quebec’s Michel Tremblay — that astounds with its beauty, power and intelligence.
The play focuses on Claude, a fledgling playwright who has penned his first work and has used the actual names of his parents and sister. It is not a flattering portrait, and when his mother, Madeleine (played by the magnificent Jane Spidell), reads it, she is understandably devastated.
Written by one of Canada’s most gifted playwrights, The Real World? is not entirely autobiographical, although it is written with such deeply felt emotion that it is hard to believe otherwise. Watching Claude, the playwright (played to perfection by Matthew Edison), argue with his mother and seeing his repulsive father, an unfaithful, ever-joking travelling salesman (played by an equally-good Tony Nappo) burst onto the scene is devastating.
But what makes this complex play a work of art is that Tremblay has fictional parents, “Alex 2” and “Madeleine 2” (played by Cliff Saunders and Meg Tilly), who repeatedly intrude into the “real life” characters’ existence, so that the audience must piece together the truth of everyone’s relationships.
I will flatly say that this production of a magnificent play — directed brilliantly by Richard Rose, the Tarragon’s artistic director — is one of the most entertaining, moving, even mind-boggling productions I have seen in nearly six decades of theatre-going.
Live theatre at its best can be deeply moving, profoundly insightful and even shattering to your soul. It can seem cliché to use one’s own family as the subject of poetry, novels or plays, but why not? As Sigmund Freud correctly pointed out, our first loves (and inarguably our greatest influences) are our parents, and this has been repeatedly seen on stage, from Oedipus Rex to Hamlet to The Real World? — and, yes, I consciously put Michel Tremblay’s play among that impressive company.
I urge you to go and experience a rare, utterly remarkable evening of theatre. Bravo, Tarragon, our greatest supporter of uniquely Canadian theatre, and thank you again, Monsieur Tremblay!
Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave., 416-531-1827. To June 3. $20-$51.