Visiting theater group chronicles life of ‘Albertine’ through flashbacks

Margaux Cameron

Visiting theater group Théâtre de la Chandelle Verte performed an adapted version of the play “Albertine, en cinq temps,” or “Albertine, in five times,” by French-Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay on Thursday, Oct. 11, in Olin. Actress Francine Conley and director Henrik Borgstrom also conducted a workshop Thursday afternoon with Professor Sarah Hurlburt’s Introduction to French Literature course.

Théâtre de la Chandelle Verte was founded by four Ph.D. French graduates of the University of Wisconsin, according to their Web site, Still only a six-person company today, it has been adapting and touring various French plays since 2001. Their mission statement says they are “committed to . . . promoting French-language theatre to university audiences nationwide.”

“They’re so devoted to French theater,” said French Professor Mary Anne O’Neil. “They show how to teach with theater. All their performances are adapted for American audiences of French learners.”

O’Neil said that Théâtre de la Chandelle Verte has performed twice before at Whitman, and that both times were “wonderful.”

“‘Albertine, en cinq temps’ is especially interesting because there are active Canadian studies here on campus,” said O’Neil. “Tremblay’s plays tend to focus on both political and sociological issues of French Canadians, particularly women.”

“Albertine, en cinq temps” follows Albertine at five stages of her life: at ages 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70. The play is arranged out of chronological order, beginning with Albertine entering a nursing home at the age of 70. Through the different flashbacks into her life, the audience sees the circumstances that have shaped her existence. In Théâtre de la Chandelle Verte’s adaptation, Albertine is played by one actress (Francine Conley) as a long series of monologues. Conley remained on the stage the entire performance, signaling new decades with small costume changes such as scarves and shoes.

The play is written in “joual,” a lower-class dialect of Québécois French. This in itself is a political statement, reflecting the marginalized society that Albertine moves in. The only time the audience sees Albertine happy is when, at the age of 50, she decides to “disobey” the rules she has been following all her life, to cut ties with her unmanageable children and unsupportive family and take a job at a restaurant.

“I really liked the play, because even though I had nothing in common with Albertine, her emotions were so raw and real that I could sympathize with her and understand her situation,” said sophomore Lauren Schneider.

In addition to attending the performance, Schneider is in Professor Hurlburt’s class and went to the workshop with Conley and Borgstrom.
“We read the script in class before the performance: I’m not sure I would’ve understood the spoken ‘joual’ without reading it first,” said Schneider. “The workshop focused less on the language and more on the theatrical aspect of their performance. They did practice some pronunciation of ‘joual’ with us: it’s hard!”

“‘Albertine’ covers many important subjects,” said O’Neil. “It’s a contemporary play written in a non-standard language. It deals with gender issues and marginalized society. As our neighbor, Canada is the most important Francophone country for U.S. residents.”