A criminally clever coup de théâtre, Claude Guilmain’s Requiem pour un trompettiste manages the amazing feat of being both an homage to film noir and a timely expose on corruption in politics. And all of it is couched in an intricate technical dance of music, dialogue and deft timing.
The first Don’t-Miss theatre of 2012, this production arrives in Montreal courtesy of Espace Libre and Theatre La Tangente, one of Toronto’s only French-language theatre companies.
How the plot of Requiem unfolds for you will be entirely your choice. Upon arriving at Espace Libre, spectators are directed towards one of two sides of the theatre, the Maître or the Hôtel. Each side comes equipped with its own set, cast of characters and taut little one act play. As the two sets are windowed and sit back-to-back, we are given occasional glimpse into the other world and soon realize that both stories involve the same characters – and that the events of one world are affecting the ones in the other.
The plays unfold to the same jazzy score (composed by Claude Naubert), which both adds to the atmosphere and provides the actors with a way to say on cue. The whole thing is delicately choreographed – even the blackouts happen at the same time – and some characters leave one play only to emerge moments later in the other.
Either way, you get the same story: in one room, the shifty mayor (Pier Paquette) works with his cronies (Bernard Meney and Vincent Leclerc) to escape scandal by pinning the blame on a hapless scapegoat (Marcello Arroyo). Across the street / theatre, the mayor’s nubile mistress (Marie Turgeon) plots to leave him with the help of an innocent bellboy (Victor Trelles Turgeon). It’s a noir-ish plot and one does has to accept certain tropes of the genre to buy the story – it takes only a scene, for instance, for Trelles-Turgeon to decide he’s in love with the girl (a moment which, admittedly, is helped by the fact that when they meet, she is scantily clad).
All of this is smartly directed by Louise Naubert, but what really makes Requiem shine is Claude Guilmain’s text: each one-act works both independently and in concert with its companion: if you walked out at intermission, you would still feel you’d received a full and complete story. None of this technical wonderment ever feels gratuitous: all of it is in service to the script, which Guilmain wrote as a response to the Walkerton tragedy, an Ontario scandal involving a small town, tainted water and government conspiracy.
Guilmain’s concern with moral and political corruption is echoed in the two plays and the style of the piece provides verisimilitude to the affair, heightening the tension and giving the whole thing the intimacy theatre strives so hard to attain.
There were technical foul-ups the night I was there, due to the decision to mic all the actors and provide the audience with headsets so they could tune into their particular play. This did create some problems as the actors, knowing they would be miked, had rehearsed a less-theatrical style of performance. Accustomed to speaking softly, it became tough to hear them when the mics cut-out. By the second act, the cast had abandoned the mics all-together. Ironically, this actually increased the verisimilitude, as the other play provided a distant soundtrack and the ever-present reminder of city life: that another world is always spinning right under your nose.
Requiem pour un trompettiste runs at Espace Libre until January 21.
For tickets, visit www.espacelibre.qc.ca or call 514.521.4191.