at the Empire Theater

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

Darkness and a clap of thunder signal the beginning of this frank story
of guilt, betrayal, and retribution. Simon Doucet (David Watterson), a man
who has unjustly served 40 years for a crime he didn't commit, has summoned
Bishop Jean Bilodeau (Stan Jenson) to his prison. Instead of the confession
he expected to hear, Bilodeau is forced at knifepoint to watch a play in
which he is a principal character. It takes place in Quebec when he and
Simon were schoolboys.
Homosexuality was taboo, and the play unfolds with the young Simon (Drew
Sutherland), Bilodeau (Scott Barber), and a third friend (Gregory J.
Palmerino) exploring their burgeoning sexuality. Jealousy drives the
friends apart, and Bilodeau begins a malicious campaign to break up the love
affair of Simon and Vallier with little concern for the lives he is
destroying. Without sensitive handling this story could easily become a
camp drag show. As the convicts are all male, the female parts must be
played with humor and a romantic sense of delicacy. The Count's mother
(David Cramer), a perceptive albeit unstable woman, floats through the story
providing haven for her son and being ridiculed by the other townspeople.
Simon's intended wife (Nick Prelesnik), towers over her would-be groom and
juggles a tricky balance between intelligent languor and mawkish
Tough going, this play-within-a-play stuff. The action is slow in the
first hour, and only in the latter 40 minutes does the tension heat up, the
story start to fall into place, and the characters come into their own.
Directed by Stephen K. Wagner with both passion and heart, the production
wire-walks a combination of nudity and lovemaking with temperance. The
youthful principals, especially the Countess, help convey the sense of
slightly overblown romanticism inherent in playwright Michel Marc Bouchard's
work. Mai Sakai's simple set, Devon Johnson's lighting, and Corinne
Carrillo's sound design enhance the production. Costumes by Michelle
Calhoun-Fitts also combine the present and past neatly. The ensemble work
together well, and there are few missteps in the execution of this oddly
melodramatic work. The hops back and forth between the present and 40 years
earlier interject some puzzling discourse, but this risk-taking group's
earnest care with the material is laudable.

"Lilies or the Revival of a Romantic Drama," presented by the Rude Guerrilla
Theatre Company at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.
Fri.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 2:30pm Aug. 13-Sept. 4. $12-15. (714) 547-4688
Friday, August 27, 2004
Pressed delicately between pages
Review: In Rude Guerrilla's hands, the gay-themed 'Lilies' addresses
lofty concepts found in great literature.

Special to the Register

Considering its literary feel and flavor, Michel Marc Bouchard's
drama "Lilies or the Revival of a Romantic Drama" may appear to have
been adapted from a novel.
It wasn't. The Quebecois playwright's 1987 work, his first hit,
originated in Canada, and its English-language staging in Toronto
garnered Bouchard numerous awards, including - aptly enough - the
Montreal Journal's Award for Literary Excellence.
Yet, "Lilies," as seen in Rude Guerrilla Theater Company's new
staging at the Empire Theater in downtown Santa Ana, is also a
heightened theatrical work and, in the hands of director Stephen
Wagner, a highly stylized exercise.
Among the sweeping literary elements: Bouchard's positively
Dickensian raft of colorful, eccentric characters and his choice of
themes, which encompasses undisguised romantic love; the complex
emotional connections between young adults and their aging parents;
issues of trust, loyalty and integrity; and man's accountability, to
himself, to other men and to God. As adept is Bouchard's use of
symbolism - notably, the elements of fire, water, earth and air.
It's 1952, and Simon Doucet's book has just been published covering
his childhood in a small Quebec town, his school years and a 40-year
imprisonment he says is unjust - an event shrouded in mystery till
the play's end. Doucet invites the Bishop Jean Bilodeau, a childhood
friend and schoolmate, to meet with him, ostensibly to discuss the
rehabilitation process. Instead, figures from the focal year of 1912
appear and act out the crucial events that shaped the courses of
both men's lives.
While the play-within-the-play is inherently theatrical, the
flashback technique and the theme of opposites are literary: We see
a young Bilodeau (Scott Barber) who's a self-righteous prude, while
the young Simon (Drew Sutherland) is a homosexual drawn to the
freedom and flamboyance of the gay lifestyle. His current flame is
the Count Vallier de Tilly (Greg Palmerino), a delicate young man
who's heir to the French throne.
As the 1912 scenes progress, Simon pursues an elusive courtship of
Vallier - a romance that seems to hold a special fascination for
Bilodeau. Is it rivalry for Simon's friendship that motivates
Bilodeau, or is he concealing a deeper affection - and his true
sexual orientation?
Complicating the story line is Simon's inner struggle to renounce
his homosexuality, turning toward Lydie-Anne, an older, unmarried
woman to whom he becomes engaged. Bilodeau considers this turn of
events a moral victory: It leaves Vallier, whom he despises, jilted
and heartbroken, while Simon's commitment to marrying a woman erases
within him the "sickness" of being gay. But a series of unexpected
events leads to tragedy, Simon's imprisonment on charges of murder
and, 40 years later, his decision to enact vengeance upon Bilodeau,
now a bishop.
Underscoring his gay themes, Bouchard specifies in the script that
all the female characters be played by men. As, respectively, the
Countess de Tilly and Lydie-Anne, David Cramer and Nick Prelesnik
maintain their normal speaking voices, using intonations and
mannerisms to create vivid, effective characterizations that belie
the superficially arch, farcical tone of their scenes.
His cheeks heavily rouged, and carrying a collapsible red fan that
he snaps for emphasis, Cramer's Countess is injected into scenes for
comic relief. As "Lilies" develops, though, so does the Countess'
quiet, unwavering devotion to her son, Vallier - and Cramer obliges
with a noteworthy portrait of maternal pride and soft-spoken
dignity. Prelesnik is tall and imposing, bringing a horsy quality to
Lydie-Anne. Like Cramer, though, he projects the gravity his
character's outer merriment covers.
Of Simon, Vallier and Bilodeau, the three focal characters from
1912, Palmerino delivers the most potent work, creating a credibly
sensitive, feminine persona for Vallier. Sutherland's portrayal of
Simon is problematic, lacking the force behind the young man's
convictions and the sense that he's genuinely torn in enduring an
identity crisis.
Barber, on the other hand, shows us exactly where young Bilodeau is
headed: Like most religious zealots, there's room in his personality
for moral purity, devotion to the point of delusion, and scads of
hypocrisy. To boot, he even looks like a younger version of Stan
Jenson, who plays the aging Bilodeau as a bishop in 1952.
Wagner's staging seats Jenson at one end of the stage opposite the
adult Simon (David Watterson), emphasizing the literary theme of
duality. Mai Sakai's set allows the events of 1912 to unfold on a
raised stage area in the center between them - a technique that
furthers Bouchard's theme that, like a play, the events of our lives
are whatever we choose to make them.

Copyright 2004 The Orange County Register

The Pink Sheet

September 2004 7

Theatre Review


review by Ted Flagg

A few years back, there was a weird, baroque, erotic, and visually gorgeous French-Canadian film made from Michel Marc Bouchard’s play Lilies. But while the film was almost self-conscious, lavish and gorgeous, Stephen Wagner’s stage production for Rude Guerrilla Theater [Company] is more restrained and formalized, but the subject matter remains unchanged. It’s an allegory about the destruction caused when jealousy masquerades as righteousness and piety.

Bishop Jean Bilodeau (Stan Jenson) is summoned to a prison – presumably to perform some priestly duty. Instead he is taken prisoner and forced to watch a re-enactment of his past life. When, in his school-days, two of the other boys, the beautiful blond Simon (Drew Sutherland) is cast as St. Sebastian in a church play, but rehearsals lead to an amorous encounter with young Vallier (Gregory J. Palmerino), witnessed by the young Bilodeau (Scott Barber), who has himself conceived a passion for Simon.

His scandalized report leads to the cancellation of the play, and ultimately to the destruction of Vallier & Simon. By the end of the play within the play, he can no longer delude himself that he acted out of righteous indignation. In the end he’s either condemned to die–or to live with his conscience.

It’s a fairly esoteric play, and not exactly easy to follow: the language is elliptical, the French names are hard to catch by ear, and all the female roles are played by men (supposedly male prisoners). In the film, the enchantress who captures young Simon was a beautiful transvestite. In the current production she is a decidedly matronly man, which undercuts credibility. It doesn’t increase the clarity when we discover that one or more of the characters are more than a little mad.

Wagner’s production, though spare and ritualistic, does produce some striking images. There are many characters, and it’s a confusingly organized program, so I can’t be sure who was who and when (there is much doubling, and many flashbacks). But the most memorable performances are by Jenson, Sutherland, and Barber as the young and tormented Bilodeau.

Note: There is a brief nude scene, emphasized in the publicity, but it’s not a very erotic one, and hardly worth a trip on that count alone. But if you enjoy the mysterious and esoteric, you might find it quite gripping.