Tuesday, August 7, 2007

canada's first bilingual play

by David Fennario

What are we to make of a play about English and French Canada, where the English Canadians can't understand a word of French and the French Canadians are just happy that there are finally some anglos slumming in the Montreal tenements? Absurd but painfully, brutally realistic, Balconville offers us a slice of life of the problems that come when we try to bridge linguistic and cultural gaps in times of need. Balconville forces you to think: what if an angle walked in on the ladies at Gabrielle Lauzon's house in Les Belles-Soeurs? Is the situation becoming more or less positive as we lean over that cultural divide?

One of the key motifs in Beaconville is an emerging understanding between the anglophone and francophone characters that they have a shared heritage. When the elderly remark to one another that children usedto behave themselves, both English and French can remark, "Yes, I remember that too." They can share troubles about working conditions at the factory and the problems with encouraging collective action. Thibault is shocked to realize that English people, just like him, often balance two girlfriends at a time.

Fennario also works to expose the racism inherent in the new emerging separatist government. Paquette blames all his troubles on "the English and the Jews," claiming that unlike them, he has had to work for a living his whole life. Johnny tries to point out that everyone of their economic class does, even the English and Jews, but Paquette tries hard to avoid listening. Paquette also voices those who wish to take away linguistic rights for anglophones, asserting that English speakers should either learn French or get out of the province. But Johnny is not without paranoid nationalism, fearing that the union is run by separatists who want to keep anglophones out of office. The effect of these discussions is to show the fear and irrationality on both sides of the debate, but also to point out that injustices can be faced by both sides. After all, both groups are living in the slums. One group may shout "Fuck the Queen!" while the other shouts "Fuck Levesque!" But for these destitute people, Fennario seems to suggest, it's really the same fight.

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