My faith in the goodness of Montreal's cultural scene is restored. Winter can be a bit sparse on the offerings and a time when journeying more than just a few blocks is an effortful production. That said, with the return of festival season, I am delighted to report that the FTA's freebie offering, la Marea, under the direction of Argentina's Mariano Pensotti was a rousing return from the winter sleep.
La Marea consisted of a series of vignettes around the theme of love. Each scene was performed with minimal speech, and the characters' thoughts or the narration appeared overhead in French (and occasionally English) subtitles. Voyeuristically dropping into another person's stream of consciousness affirmed the basic common desires and hopes among diverse people. Most refreshing, each vignette made use of the apartment balconies and storefronts of Rue Emery in the Latin Quarter as a backdrop. That natural street traffic of pedestrians, residents, and film goers periodically crossed in front of the scenes, which made every episode all the more vivid and added relevancy. Characters from one scene would reappear in another, as pedestrian traffic, which also added to the naturalism. Over a two hour period, attentive crowds wandered from vignette to vignette, each a fleeting 10 minutes of mental chatter and poignancy.
I attirbute the success of La Marea to a number of factors. Phrases and names particular to Quebec, such as street names or mention of the FLQ, rooted the universal ponderings to a local setting. In this way, all the themes of love raised were applicable, rather than abstract. Personally, I found this attempt to integrate Quebec into the play a bit forced and it could have been done more subtly and with less frequency. I also enjoyed the novelty of walking from scene to scene, all of which were quirky and brief. It never felt redundant, even though most of the vignettes seemed to focus on love's brevity. I found myself waiting to see how each vignette addressed certain shared points: Every character shared an escape fantasy. Every character expressed a desire to be liked. Every character faced self doubt.
Of all the vignettes, I found the two characters who fail to meet up outside a movie theatre the most compelling. Making use of the theatre on the street, after five minutes of waiting for his date to arrive, the bitter man walks away. In the meantime, a woman arrives at the theatre and begins to wrestle with her faith in God as a consequence of her frustration at being stood up. Presumably, the two were supposed to meet each other.
Hopefully Montreal will continue to sponsor innovative productions like La Marea in its festival programming. For the past two years, the Festival Transamerique has brought high quality international work to this city in a variety of performance genres and this year's offerings are no exception.