Review by Tony Carter – Showbill.ca Staff Writer
November 26, 2017
When Les Belles-Soeurs first premiered in 1968 it was called revolutionary, and it is not difficult to see why: fourteen working class women offer their perspective on their working class lives while bickering with each other on issues of mortality and fortune. The play has been praised for dramatically altering Quebecois theatre. It was a firebrand whose vulgar language and crude comedy challenged the theatre of the time. But can something that was revolutionary forty years ago still make such a claim today?
In some ways, yes it can. Even today it’s rare to find a show that stars not only so many women, but also does not feature any men on-stage. The show’s second act takes on some really heavy issues, as all of these women feel trapped by the circumstances in one way or another, and part of that is definitely related to their sex. Even today, these problems are especially still relatable to the working class.
But for every way that Les Belles-Soeurs is still relevant, there are more ways that it just is not. Take the plot itself: Germaine Lauzon (played by Pam Miller) wins a contest and her prize is one million stamps. She can use these stamps to get free appliances, and thus invites her entire neighborhood over to help place the stamps. It’s easy enough to “just go with it” if you don’t know what this contest is, but these generational differences really stack up over the course of the play. From the evangelical hatred that most of these women share for “the clubs” to the way that outright elder abuse is treated as a joke (though that could have just been most of the audience laughing at an elderly woman being slapped unconscious), a lot of elements of the show feel dated.
Some structural and technical choices also come off as bizarre. There are several interludes throughout the show when the lighting changes and the women either speak as a collective or monologue directly to the audience. These moments have a distinctly surreal feel to them that comes off as very out of place compared to the bulk of the show, made all the more unfortunate by how much more interesting these segments are than the plot itself, though the acting on display is quite strong both in and out of these cutaways.
And speaking of the acting, since the show is set in Montreal, it makes sense for the characters to speak in Quebecois accents. The accents range from totally passable for a French-Canadian citizen to distractingly bad. The attempt is admirable, nonetheless.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Les Belles Soeurs was once called revolutionary. It was also once called crude and vulgar. While the latter is certainly true, the former has been degraded by time. You might still enjoy seeing this show, but don’t expect a revelation.