Bâtardes by Chloé and Jade Barshee (English translation: Bastards)
Theatre Passe Muraille
I really wanted to make a connection to this production of belonging, but alas. Sigh!
I was really hoping Chloé and Jade Barshee’s ‘Bâtardes’ would make a comment on how important it is for all of us to feel we belong somewhere in a community not divided by race, creed, colour but by who we are as individuals.
There were so many positive things going for the play initially that I thought, okay, three times going to be the charm to conclude Passe Muraille’s #BeyondTO series.
For one, because I knew the production would be in French with English surtitles, this would have been my opportunity to put my undergraduate knowledge of French to work without looking at the surtitles but knowing I could if I didn’t catch everything.
Additionally, I liked reading the e-zine presented for each of the three productions as important information was given as a focus along with the online house programme. When I read in the e-zine that Jade was asked the question where she was from as a child in her grade school, she realized the ignorance of the person who asked the question. When I taught Core French to grade/elementary school years ago, that context (d’où viens-tu?) was part of what we had to teach to the kids. Obviously, this syntax formatted question must now be handled sympathetically as context is so important, even though our woke world today tells us context does not matter in any case.
Upon entering the auditorium Sarah-Jeanne Doré’s visually simple set design would allow me to focus on the action of the play. William Couture’s video design of the adorable young Barshee girls and their parents in everyday momentary life situations at least showed me there was a sense of belonging within this family of a Tibetan father and Québecoise mother. I really liked the preshow spot lighting of what appeared to be a transistor radio on the stage.
Jonathan Léo Saucier’s costume designs nicely delineated the characters of the Barshee girls at different points in their lives. The school outfits were perfectly fitted for the girls. Mathieu Beauséjour’s monster costume worked extremely well for me as I felt this was the kind of entity that a young child could conjure up in her mind if something (or someone) was bothering her.
I especially liked Chloé and Jade Barshee’s introduction to the audience as the top of the show. I bought them entirely as they became truly believable young girls at school just through the various idiosyncrasies of young people both artists adopted.
But how did my interest and focus on the story wane?
It was the presentation of the English caption at the top of the set. Yes, I have some working knowledge of the French language, but it has been years since I’ve actually sat in a classroom either to teach the language or to focus my attention either in hearing or listening to the language.
It became so frustrating for me as the play progressed and I began to lose interest in the plot and any kind of connection I was to make to the characters. From my seat near the back of the house, the font size remains abysmally tiny to read. I kept squinting my eyes (and I wear bifocals) and looking at the top of the set to catch what was being said especially in some of the charged dramatic moments. When it didn’t improve as the show continued, I gave up in trying to keep up.
At one point, the girls are speaking one right after the other that sometimes the captioning didn’t keep up with the pacing of the dialogue. That became clear to me with my limited French knowledge and again I continued to lose focus in what was being said.
Please, Nina Okens, Sean Baker, and Elizabeth Morris, make the font size larger so audiences can follow the action.
Here, in Toronto, neither everyone has a working knowledge of French nor is fluently and/or functionally bilingual. I get that an English translation may not be able actually to express the emotional impact of a line or thought spoken in French. At one point, the term ‘pure laine’ is used, and I remember discussing that terminology in French as a Second Language Faculty of Education classes many years ago and debating that it could not be translated and mean the same thing in English.
But it’s a shame that an important play like ‘Bâtardes’ does not have the emotional impact as it should.
Running Time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
Covid Protocols in effect.
‘Bâtardes’ runs to June 4 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, call 1-416-504-7529 or visit www.passemuraille.ca.
BÂTARDES written and directed by Chloé et Jade Barshee
Artistic Consultant: Patrick R. Lacharité et Phillippe Cyr
Dramaturgical Consultant: Pascal Brullemans
Video and lighting design/Stage Manager: William Couture
Costume Designer: Jonathan Léo Saucier
Set Designer: Sarah-Jeanne Doré
Sound Designer: Ariane Lamarre
English Captioning: Nina Okens
Captioning Operator: Sean Baker
Captioning Consultant: Elizabeth Morris
Cast: Chloé Barshee, Jade Barshee, Mathieu Beauséjour