LILIES or THE REVIVAL OF A ROMANTIC DRAMA
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.
By ERIC MARCHESE
Special to the Register
Considering its literary feel and flavor, Michel Marc Bouchard's
The Pink Sheet
September 2004 7
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 dieor 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.