Straight Jacket Winter - Théatre la Seizième

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Straight Jacket Winter | Théatre la Seizième, 2par4, Centre National des Arts

October 18 – 29, 2016 at Studio 16

Moving to a new city can be a daunting experience, especially when you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language fluently. Esther Duquette (Artistic Director of Théatre la Seizième) and Gilles Poulin-Denis moved from Montreal to Vancouver in 2011, and they wrote Straight Jacket Winter about their experience of finding a new home. This could have been a banal, commonplace story, but they expertly pulled out the most poignant moments and wove in literary references from L’Hiver de force by Réjean Ducharme that added another layer of meaning.

Duquette and Poulin-Denis narrated, controlled projections and sound, and helped with the set pieces while Julie Trépanier and Frédéric Lemay acted out their autobiographical story. This set up worked surprisingly well, and it was nice to hear directly from Duquette and Poulin-Denis and then have the separation between the narration and the action.

This play is very relatable, even if you have never moved to a new city. I’m sure many young couples would see a bit of themselves in the scene where Esther and Gilles discuss whether or not to text a girl they are trying to become friends with. Their struggle to make friends, especially as a couple, is all too familiar. They also called out specific people who expressed interest in becoming friends and making plans but were never heard from again. We can all relate to that.

Another struggle they encountered was becoming more familiar with their second language of English. Esther calls Shaw to set up their internet, and is surprised to find that French is not even an option. Another irony was the free English language classes offered by the government of BC for newcomers — Esther and Gilles were not eligible because they were not from another country.  

And then there’s the rain. It almost acts as a third character as it seems to trap them in their small apartment for months. Gilles is working on translating L’Hiver de force, and his quotes from the book apply perfectly to various moments; art is reflecting their lives.  

As time goes by, Esther and Gilles yearn for their former home of Montreal less and begin to see Vancouver as their home, especially after they go back and have a new perspective on the city and see that everyone has moved on with their lives since they left.

While Esther and Gilles are holed up in their apartment one long rainy winter a couple of years after arriving, they share a couple of very funny scenes as they try to find some way to amuse themselves. They try to speak in only vowels, then they start reading from the dictionary to improve their English vocabulary and Esther learns the words “home” and “straight jacket.”  

After they descend into madness, go a bit stir crazy, pull themselves out of it and fully embrace their new home, the play ends with a beautiful cityscape created onstage from all of the props. The inclusion of personal touches such as photos and postcards that they cherish from those first years in Vancouver made it all the more special, and I was impressed by the way this beautiful, thoughtful, and engaging play was created from what, on the surface, sounds like a simple relocation across the country.

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