Les fées ont soif! (The Fairies Are Thirsty): Does the title of Denise Boucher’s famous play ring a bell? Actress Sophie Clément celebrates the 40th anniversary of the controversial and symbolic feminist piece with a production to open the first Théâtre du Rideau Vert season exclusively directed by women. Right in the spirit of the times!
Let us back up a bit. Staged for the first time in 1978 at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Les fées ont soif enflamed passions well before its premiere. The playwright questions male obsession with female virginity, a major preoccupation of many religions. The scandal: the Conseil des arts de Montréal threatened to cut funding to TNM if the piece was not immediately pulled.
On their side, members of Young Canadians for a Christian Civilization, donning black cloaks and masks, hurled medallions at the actors and bought tickets to recite the rosary during performances. They argued that the play is blasphemous because it makes a character out of a statue of the Virgin Mary. They were protesting to prevent this character from being played, and even made a formal request to ban the performance and publication altogether.
After a long legal battle that went down in the history of Quebec theatre, the court ruled in favour of playwright Denise Boucher; actresses Michèle Magny, Sophie Clément, and Louise Dussault; and the artistic director of TNM. The piece was ultimately performed and published uncensored, and it even toured Quebec.
“Why are we still here?”
When Denise Filiatrault and Denise Boucher asked Sophie Clément to direct a reboot of the show, she accepted without hesitation. With the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the actor-director felt that the piece, which had toured the world but had barely been revisited in Quebec, demanded to be taken off the shelf and dusted off.
To those who question the pertinence of this reboot, Sophie retorts that it is deplorable that such a piece is still needed. “Rape culture, this repulsive masculinist movement, the harassment of women in the streets… Why are we still here? It is imperative that we tackle these subjects and question women about themselves, be they mothers, daughters, or hookers, to use Denise Boucher’s words.”
At the time of its creation, the team received threats of all sorts. “The reason for it wasn’t the quality of the play,” Clément says, “but our message, which ultra-Catholics did not support.
“How to express this? We were immersed in the broader issue back then, and today, with 40 years behind me, I have a different perspective on life and things. And I am now immersed in the particulars.”
If Sophie Clément isn’t under the same pressures that the group felt during the original production, she has a new weight on her shoulders. The play itself is famous, and the scandal that it caused back then left such an imprint on the fantasy of theatre that it is imperative, from day one, that the audience be pulled back into the high quality of the piece.
“We are lucky to be able to go so far with it, to reflect on the piece and its significance,” Clément says. “We are taking liberties that we could not in 1978.
“Back then, we were so worried, we had, in a way, a little polite side to ourselves that the current trio does not have. They don’t have any restraints!”
At the heart of the text is a play on the feminine archetypes of Mary and Magdalene. This reached the original actresses while the script was being written, in snippets. Today’s process is different, since the actresses have a completed piece to work with from. “I chose actresses that have a true and sincere manner,” Clément reports affectionately. “Bénédicte Décary, Caroline Lavigne and Pascale Montreuil settled right into their respective roles.
“They play the roles with all their nuances, and their emotions which colour each day differently. Their interpretations feed off each other.”
Archetypes still exist
Is there nostalgia in the air? No. Watching actors evolve is a gift that this director will never tire of, and it does her good to hear this script read. But she does wonder: “Sometimes, I read comments on social media that are completely backward, written by women, and it reminds me of when, in the 60s and 70s, some declared that women’s education was superfluous!”
These women are often conditioned to pass male judgments on their sisters. They repeat what they have been taught and can’t even imagine a time in the future when they might be men’s equals.
The play’s characters are archetypes that still exist: the whore, a generous woman with a bizarre and not very sensual sexuality; the mother, who wonders how to find her own pleasure; the virgin, who will ultimately fall even lower than her sisters.
“We still don’t know of another way to be together as men and women, but we must continue to search and imagine what the world could be like if we were equals. We do not want a scandal, we want to be heard and loved for our message.”
Translation by Janessa Culliford
Les fées ont soif, with Bénédicte Décary, Caroline Lavigne and Pascale Montreuil. Musicians: Patricia Deslauriers, Nadine Turbide. Script by Denise Boucher, direction by Sophie Clément. At the Théâtre du Rideau Vert, from Sept. 22 to Nov. 10, 2018.