The term “active listening” takes on a whole new meaning when the listener is Louise Arsenault. “Dialogue is really musical, it’s in the ear. You have to be an amazing eavesdropper,” says the playwright and poet whose latest work, Dating Jesus, will open at Théâtre Ste. Catherine starting November 6.
The play, not quite but “almost a comedy,” begins with a most unfunny premise. A single parent, in this case a mother in her late 40s, already devastated by the destruction of her marriage, faces the shock of yet another loss.
What happens when an already vulnerable individual in a precarious situation turns to the safety nets and supports put in place by society — and these fail to deliver on their implicit promise? Can someone in this situation stay strong for those who depend on her?
Adding to the character’s external struggle is the fact that she is an artist—a published poet — with an inner calling. “She wants to write while balancing the bills and in the process is coming undone, ” explains Arsenault. “I know it’s a romantic notion that artists have to suffer and [being an artist] is a terrible struggle, but in my opinion, it ’s true.”
The play takes a hard look at mental health and creativity, while touching on the nature of relationships that arise between sisters, mother and daughter, and therapist and client.
The intriguing title doesn’t actually refer to one character but more to a state of mind. “The mother has to come to terms with Jesus as more of a consciousness rather than a particular figure,” Arsenault says.
The writer, who has crafted eight plays and also paints, has lived the life of an artist since childhood. “I remember being six years old, making little novels and putting on plays I wrote and produced at school. ” Arsenault says she’s loved drama and poetry for as long as she can remember. “Poetry is more immediate,” Arsenault says. “Writing a play is a long -term process—we’re talking two years. Poetry, you write it and then you do one or two drafts and it ’s done.”
There is a vital connection between the two literary forms in Arsenault’s work. In the play, the central character actually reads some of her poetry. But the entire work was first conceived in this literary form. “I wrote a long poem which became a monologue which then became part of the play,” she said.
Janis Kirshner, who plays a character who provides some of the comic relief in the play, is thrilled to have the chance to work with the writer on board. “Most authors are either dead...or American,” she says, tongue-in-cheek. Arsenault’s poetic expression is not lost on her. “Some of the passages, especially the thoughts of the main character, are so beautiful,” Kirshner says.
The work is presented by Unwashed Grape, a young cutting-edge theatre company created in 2004 by Laura Mitchell and Paul Hawkins, based on their mutual love of Tennessee Williams. The small company is dedicated to creating “entertainment that speaks to the passions and the perplexities of the human heart.” Directed by Paul Hawkins, the production stars Laura Mitchell, Debra Kirshenbaum, Janis Kirshner and Taylor Baruchel.
Dating Jesus, a “rollicking comedy-drama about a single mother and sex addict looking for salvation while losing her mind, ” runs November 6-18, 2007, at Théâtre Ste.
The show starts at 8 pm with matinées on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Box office: 514-284-3939.
Legendary journal comes to life on stage
Preview: The Diary of Anne Frank at the Segal
The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre of The Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts launches its new season this October with the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Diary of Anne Frank.
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and adapted by Wendy Kesselman, the play is an iconic dramatization of the legendary journals of a Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II.
Directed by Marcia Kash, this world-renowned play movingly details the tension between the inhuman darkness of the Nazis and the incandescent humanity of its heroine.
The diary itself is as acclaimed as the play. In the introduction to its first American edition, Eleanor Roosevelt called the journal “one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings I have ever read. ”
Frank’s diary chronicles 25 months spent with her family and four others, hiding from the Nazis in rooms above her father ’s office. They were eventually captured by the Nazis and, in 1945, nine months after her arrest, Anne died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen. She was 15.
First published in 1947, the diary’s popularity led to the theatrical adaptation, which opened on Broadway in 1955.
The Diary of Anne Frank runs October 14 to November 4 at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd. Info: 514-739-2301 or www.saidyebronfman.org.
Senior rate at the Geordie
This fall, Geordie Productions launches its new season, “All the World,” with a special rate for seniors.
“A lot of grandparents enjoy bringing their grandkids,” says publicity and box office manager Siu Min Jim. “We really wanted to promote this relationship and decided to offer seniors a special rate. ”
Geordie Productions kicks off the 2007-08 schedule October 12 with A Promise is a Promise, a classic adaptation of the famous Inuit Arctic legend as told by Robert Munsch and Inuit writer Michael Kusugak.
Geordie Productions Theatre is at 4001 Berri. Info: 514-845-9810.
Dramatic final chapter at Centaur
The Centaur launches its fall season with The Carpenter, the much-anticipated conclusion to Vittorio Rossi’s A Carpenter’s Trilogy.
Inspired by true events, this original series recounts four decades in the life of an Italian family in Montreal.
Gordon McCall directs The Carpenter, which runs October 2 to 28 at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St. François-Xavier in Old Montreal. Tickets & info: 514-288-3161.