It takes guts for someone to break out of their assigned role in the family and defy their loved ones’ expectations, but that’s what a coddled boy turned man does in the latest play at Adobe Rose Theatre, “Bonjour, Là, Bonjour.”
The 1974 play by Québécois Michel Tremblay probes deep into the twisted ties that bind a working-class family, and the shock that lies in store when that son, Serge, returns with some unwelcome decisions after spending three months in Paris contemplating his future.
The play is written almost like a musical score, with themes repeating and interweaving, conversations moving back and forth in time and place.
All actors are onstage throughout the play, which runs an hour-and-a-half without an intermission.
The set rises onto catwalks behind audience members, and action even drifts into the aisles as cast members move with the rhythm of the script.
“Anybody who breaks the mold of family risks a lot … Standing up for yourself within the family unit is something very rare,” said Wendy Chapin, who is getting her second crack at directing the play after guiding it 30 years ago at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. Revisiting the story with a cast of appropriate ages – 25 to 76 – and all those years of experience behind her is a particular treat, she said.
Dylan Thomas Marshall, who takes on the role of Serge, said he thinks his character’s courage comes out of a deeply felt love – a love he decided to stick by even after trying to separate himself from it on the other side of an ocean.
“I see him as someone who is deeply in love, and willing to sacrifice for that,” he said.
Once the secret of his love is spoken, though, it threatens to send damaging tremors through the family’s very foundations.
“The family might split. Once it’s out, everyone has to deal with it … How do they deal with it as a working-class Catholic family?” said Sabina Dunn, who plays Monique, one of Serge’s four sisters – all older, all of whom doted on him and felt as if they raised him.
In return, they all feel a sense of entitlement, of wanting something back from him, of wanting to retreat to the easier days of their childhood.
He has been the caretaker holding the family together, and after three months gone, they are looking for him to refill that role and help solve their problems, Chapin said.
And there are plenty of problems within the claustrophobic confines of these close-knit relatives. Two bickering aunts take care of Serge’s ailing and partially deaf father, who escapes to the local tavern whenever he can. One aunt pops pills for real or imagined ailments while the other feels trapped into a situation she can’t afford to leave.
Glenna Hill, who plays the trapped aunt Gilberte, said her character feels “absolutely strangled” by her sibling flat-mates, whom she doesn’t even really love.
Meanwhile, the married sisters thought forming their own immediate families might offer an escape, but have found the option they chose less than fulfilling.
“We just want to go back to when we were kids,” Dunn said of the sisters. “To go back to a time when everyone was close together. They’re longing for that kind of simplicity and intimacy.”
“He was a very loved child,” Chapin said of Serge, “but that’s a double-edge sword.”
As everyone competes for his attention, Serge has to resist falling into his old role of caretaker and assert himself. “He has a right to be happy, too,” Chapin said.
By bucking all the expectations, though, Serge doesn’t know if he’ll see his family again. Will he be rejected or accepted? In a sense, Chapin said, he came back home to say good-bye, not knowing what the outcome will be.
But in the process, he learns even more about love, managing to cut through his own father’s remoteness and declare his love for him, Dunn noted.
“Because it is very human, there are some very funny moments,” she added.
“I call it a dark comedy,” Chapin said. And, she added, it “plays like gangbusters.”