Monday, September 25, 2017

35. Balconville a play by David Fennario

A friend gave me this play for my birthday and it has been sitting on my shelf for a few years.  It's a real artifact from the anglo-Canadian scene during the height of the struggle for independence in Quebec.  Well that's what it takes place, but it was written in 1980, so about ten years later, but the issues were certainly still going on in this form back then.

The play takes place in Pointe-St-Charles, a neighbourhood on the other side of the canal from downtown Montreal, one of the earliest working class neighbourhoods and also a place where a lot of the social spirit of Quebec and Montreal was started.  The play is set in facing balconies, with two anglophone families on one side and a francophone family on the other.  Most of what goes on is street life among the working class people, in french and english: angry teenage daughter, alchoholic unemployed boyfriend, simply delivery guy, tired wives and so on.  It's quite entertaining and would probably be quite fun to see live.  There is no innate conflict between the french and english, but as the play goes on and when there is conflict about other things, it quite quickly leads to blaming the other side.

It all is leading up to a pretty obvious political sentiment, which is made explicit at the climactic ending when the actors turn to the audience and say "What are we going to do?" in french and english.  The answer is obvious in the text, which is stop fighting amongst yourselves and unite to fight the real enemy, the wealthy and the politicians.

I like the sentiment and I generally agree with it, but I can also see how a francophone audience at the time might not take it so positively.  This is a very similar kind of dynamic as to what is going on now in the States with all this talk about the poor white people in the flyover states being neglected by the left.  Yes, it sucks for everybody who is poor.  It sucks even worse to be poor and in a cultural minority.  This is something the resentful anglophones never really understood (and to this day you still hear them complain of the discrimination against them here as if the bureaucracy in B.C. or Ontario is somehow super effective and well-managed).  So it feels a bit naive and optimistic for Fennario to think that the two solitudes are going to unite while all the advantages were still structurally geared towards english speakers.  It's telling that this play has only performed in English theatres (at least according to the book; it may have shown elsewhere since then). 

The other interesting thing is that Pointe St-Charles is gentrifying pretty quickly and the people that make up the characters in this play are slowly disappearing from that neighbourhood.  It will take a while still but already the struggle and hardships depicted in this play are disappearing (or more likely moving away) and along with them a lot of the spirit and culture here too, to be replaced by professional families who organize "playdates" and worry about safety.

No comments: