“Courville”: what sleeps under the surface

Initially planned later in Robert Lepage’s work plan, Courville will have taken advantage of the pandemic upheaval, leaving its creator closer to its home port. This is how we get a taste of this solo show earlier which, premiered in Quebec City, picks up in a way where 887 had left us.

From childhood in Murray Street, the creative quest here naturally passes through adolescence and the suburbs, with its typical bungalows. If the background is no longer to Felquist pushes but rather to political overtures and the seizure of power by the Quebec Party, the play takes up this same central desire to explore a youth in what it will have had as a founder – here, a reluctant young boy who enters fully into adolescence and his new impulses.

Different aesthetics

Despite this direct continuity with the previous solo, the aesthetic turns out to be quite different. The author gives himself here a character in good and due form, with this elderly sculptor returning, for the benefit of the audience, to the pivotal years of the end of secondary school.

The universe also turns out to be darker and more torn, recalling The confessional, where Lothaire Bluteau was also plunging into a disturbing labyrinth.

On stage, the workmanship is also particularly cinematographic – remarkable projections on the various sides of the decor, enveloping music. In a construction crammed with scenic ingenuities that one would easily pass over in silence as they characterize the work of Ex Machina, the few large-sized puppets are deployed which, like the bunraku theater, constitute a novelty in the work of the company.

Manipulated on sight, these bring to life the characters evoked and interpreted by an actor who ends up disappearing behind them – this frail adolescent but agitated by a powerful movement, above all, which demands accountability from the world all around.

At the heart of a mystery

The piece spins a discovery much deeper than the only emotions of the body: duplicity. Beyond the adolescent torment that one could quickly reduce under the convenient register of libido, the piece explores more broadly an ambiguous relationship to the world and to speech; this sexuality which strikes the young boy therefore appears above all as a tugging, and it is here that the play finds its strong thread.

Here, too, that the scenic device begins to speak. A vast inclined game plan welcomes the world of the surface, in particular this family home burdened by the unspoken; taken up, however, this plan reveals the basement which, for the boy chased there after the arrival of an unwelcome uncle, becomes a den.

The comings and goings between basement and surface end up printing a kind of breathing, a beat that shakes the young man, between disappointing reality and plunging into oneself.

In a writing that interweaves promising thematic lines, not all will find an equal echo. The theme of the “cellar” hits the mark; the Quebec political context, however, despite the glimpses of the suggested bridges, will sometimes struggle to vibrate with the story of this young boy.

This multiplication of thematic lines will also lead to a first part struggling to place us as close as possible to the character.

The second part, fortunately, builds on all these open themes which find their conclusion and then allow us to access moments of great emotional charge, where the puppets acquire a strong and convincing life.

In these few moments of grace, we then taste the fruits of a powerful and fierce quest, nevertheless delivered with tenderness.


Text, conception, direction and interpretation: Robert Lepage. Handling of puppets: Wellesley Robertson III, Caroline Tanguay and Martin Vaillancourt. An Ex Machina production, at Le Diamant until October 23.

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