A LOOM WITH LONG WHITE STRINGS stretches to the ceiling of the Bain St. Michel for Infinitheatre’s production of John and Béatrice, by Carol Fréchette. No one actually weaves during the play, although characters do get trapped in the strings. The stage metaphor calls attention to the stories we weave about our own lives and the lives of others in the endless search for love.
The protagonist of this two-hander is Béatrice, a modern-day Sheherazad, who fabricates fantastic accounts of her conception, birth and life, and can’t be trusted to give her own true name. She’s a Sheherazad with a twist though, for unlike the original, who spun 1001 tales in an effort to seduce a sultan into sparing her life, Béatrice tells tales simply for the fun of it. And she’s not content merely to tell stories, either. She wants to hear stories told by others. To this end, she invites men to her boudoir in a Montréal high-rise.
Béatrice is searching for a man capable of winning her with words. She warns everyone who walks through her door that she is easily bored, and indeed, keeps dozing off at unexpected moments, and then waking shortly after, consumed by thirst. The thirst too, is a metaphor. Like Kafka’s hunger artist, Fréchette’s Béatrice seems starved for a basic sustenance that so far has eluded her. At one point, sand pours from her throat as if she were a character in a fairy tale or fantasy, and she declares that she’s as dry as a desert.
Béatrice puts out an ad, promising a “substantial reward” to any man who can interest, move and seduce her with his stories. The play opens when a hard-boiled bounty-hunter named John knocks on her door.
Well-known to French-speaking audiences, Fréchette’s work is now making its mark with Anglophone audiences. An earlier play, Les Quatres Morts de Marie, which won a Governor General’s award in 1995, has been translated by playwright John Murrell and performed in Toronto. John and Béatrice, another excellent translation by Murrell, is making its Québec debut in this current rendition at Infinitheatre.
Under Guy Sprung’s able direction, Tania Kontoyanni plays a captivating Béatrice, who steps out of allegory and becomes pleasingly real and vulnerable as the play progresses. Frank Schorpion is a convincing John, matching Béatrice in creative cunning and inventiveness. On a stark but evocative set designed by Perrine Biette, they draw us more and more deeply into their respective stories, interesting, moving and ultimately seducing us with their quest.
John and Béatrice continues through November 9 at the Bain St. Michel, 5300 St. Dominique St. 514-987-1774.
Claire Holden Rothman is a Montreal writer and translator.