‘Tis the Season for Benevolence at the GCTC

It may the festive time of year, but the GCTC is bucking the trend of those feel-good feelings of the season in its current production of the 2013 Government General’s Award for French-language Drama, Benevolence.

This dark play explores some heavy themes of capitalism and greed, family tragedy and the spectrum of what being “good” is all about. With lines “when you love, you have to leave” repeated several times throughout the play, this is no Elf or Miracle on 34th Street. There is no great redemption leaving you mushy inside.

Set in small-town Quebec, Gilles Jean, a big-city, Porsche-driving lawyer, heads home to deal with a legal case involving his childhood friend Bruno and his grieving wife Isabelle, whose son is in a coma. Jean’s shrill mother, a social justice activist disappointed in her money-driven son, is there to bring on the guilt and try to bring her son to the “good side.”  She is no shrinking violet, having seen her share of tragedy in the loss of her three other sons and husband and, one suspects, there is more tragedy lurking in her story than is shared.

Playwright Fannie Britt brilliantly delves into these themes and theatrical techniques, such as regular, direct address to the audience, hauls us into the story.

Truth be told, this is billed as a fast-paced pitch-black comedy, but that is overstating it. There are some wonderful humorous moments of course, but one gets the sense that it is much funnier in French. It feels as if some of the cultural, biting Québec humour is lost in translation. That said, it is still a fabulous play and the acting is wonderful. Pierre Simpson effectively captures Gilles Jean’s angst and pulls the audience in with his direct addresses. Puja Uppal’s icy, grieving Isabelle in her white cowboy boots, could send shivers up anyone’s spine, all the while eliciting empathy for her predicament of having her child in a coma. The fact she never lets go of her wine glass underlines her unbearable pain.

When Sébastien Dijkstra is on stage – regardless of which of the three roles he takes on – he energizes the set. He plays with ease Gilles’ immoral and vile legal boss; Gilles’ father; and, Gilles’ Scottish lover. Will Somers shines as Bruno Green, the simple-minded, childhood friend.

While Mélanie Beauchamp may overdo the shrill factor, she more than makes up for it by making you laugh or think hard about good and bad and parental pressures (given and felt) and expectations. In fact, it is that dilemma that will stick with you after the play. And while there is a great twist at the end, which seems to restore the justice balance, you may still find yourself thinking about your own moral compass and what love means to you, which, in this festive season, after second thought, may be exactly what is needed.

www.gctc.ca  Benevolence runs until December 17th.

Photo: Curtis Perry