Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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Le Devoir, Friday, September 28, 1984


Louison Danis Remarkable

Aurore, l'Enfant Martyr (Aurore the Child Martyr) Between Curiosity and Unease


Aurore, l'enfant martyr by Léon Petitjean and Henri Rollin, text reconstructed by Alonzo Le Blanc. Directed by René-Richard Cyr, scenery by Louise Campeau, costumes by Danièle Lévesque, lighting by Claude Accolas, music by Michel Smith. With Louison Danis (the cruel stepmother), Adèle Reinhardt (Aurore), Daniel Simard (the father), Suzanne Champagne and Gildor Roy (the neighbours), Jean-Louis Roux (the parish priest), Roger Léger (the judge), Thomas Graton (Gérard), Jean-Guy Viau and Alain Fournier (the lawyers for the Crown and for the Defence). Produced by the Théâtre de Quat’sous. On until October 28.

Curiosity will drive many people to go see Aurore, l’enfant martyre at the Quat’sous. On that score, its success is certain. It is extremely rare in Quebec theatre that any old theatrical cast-offs are dug out of the trunk. The repertoire would fit into a handbag: a few melodramas worn out on the boards of the Arcade, a few awkwardly copied farces, obsolete texts by Deyglun and Desprez, bourgeois tragedies by Yvette Mercier-Gouin. Everything before Gélinas amounts to the same thing: simplistic, clumsy theatre.

But there is the case of this melodrama by Petitjean and Rollin, a classic example of the popular theatre that was current in the first half of the century. The very fact that it was performed about 6 000 times (an unequalled record) justifies that we come back to it, even if it is only to note the immense ground that has been covered since then.

At the Quat’sous, the director René-Richard Cyr had the delicate task of breathing new life into this haphazardly constructed melodrama.

Cyr played relatively little with the construction of the melodrama, apart from interweaving the martyrdom scenes in the kitchen with the scenes from the trial. This produces a dynamic that the original version didn't have. Petitjean and Rollin first crammed in a half-hour of martyrdom (bread spread with soap, poker, hands on the stove, etc…), in order to then edify the public with a trial of the French patronage theatre type.

In addition to thus lightening the performance with this coming and going between the kitchen and the trial, Cyr makes a few additions that structure the performance more than give it a dramatic thrust. At the beginning, the judge warns against this type of show (an article from the time), then Cyr has the cruel stepmother read a letter found in the National Archives, in which the latter tells the schoolmistress to be strict with Aurore. Then, the most interesting of Cyr's initiatives: a final text he wrote in which the cruel stepmother wonders about her actions, not going so far as a confessing, but taking stock of her actions on the verge of tears.

René-Richard Cyr, therefore, dusts off the melodrama, structures it, and stages it in a contemporary manner for our realistic theatre. But he doesn't quite manage to go beyond the work itself. He manages no more than a reproduction of the tragedy under new circumstances. And yet, the exercise of digging Aurore out from under the dust would have been more pertinent with a more critical approach, with freer writing, with a move away from the event and closer to its meaning.

The public will doubtless remain in a state of unease. Why bring us to thus practice voyeurism (although the spectacular aspect of the martyrdom was not overdone) through a decidedly weak theatrical product? Demanding members of the audience will feel a sort of shame before the simplism of such rudimentary dramatic art. On this level, Cyr could have taken a greater distance from his subject and questioned this type of performance and this way of reproducing a news event without intellectual effort.

This being said, the very strong performance of Louison Danis in the role of the cruel stepmother must be emphasised. Her interpretation of the role is the greatest performance of the start of this season. Thanks to her, Cyr's production is acceptable all the same (despite the reservations), because this very strong character, who becomes set in her determination and blindness, carries the entire play. Without Louison Danis, this show would be very weak. At the end, in the text added by Cyr, her performance is of a remarkable intensity.

Adèle Reinhardt is very believable as Aurore, as is Jean-Louis Roux in the character of a sombre and frightening parish priest. Gildor Roy and Suzanne Champagne make for very credible, very lively neighbours. It is with the magistracy that nothing works. Roger Léger's judge lacks substance. Jean-Guy Viau's Crown prosecutor comes across as fake, and the intentions of Alain Fournier as the defence lawyer are hard to follow. On the whole, the cast is uneven.

Source: Robert Lévesque, "Aurore, l'enfant martyre, entre la curiosité et le malaise," Le Devoir (Montréal), September 28, 1984.

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