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Translated by Linda Gaboriau
The narrator sits squirming in his chair as his mother gives it to him good. He’s thrown a block of ice under a car—a prank that has summoned the police to his house. His mother weaves tales of a jail sentence, dead children, and falling through her floor from shock, landing on the downstairs neighbors’ kitchen table, bologna sandwiches stuck to her back. “You’re pretty melodramatic, Ma,” responds the narrator, and we are jerked out of the monologue, the narrator no longer a precocious 10-year-old but a grown man imitating a precocious 10-year-old. Maybe something is lost in Linda Gaboriau’s translation of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, Quebecois playwright Michel Tremblay’s autobiographical tribute to the dead mother who inspired him. Yes, perhaps the translator is to blame for the clunkiness, for putting such a line in the mouth of a 10-year-old to begin with. But it’s also true that, as the narrator who hops from childhood to early adulthood in five vignettes, Bruce Holmes never quite convinces. Granted, he faces a considerable challenge: Confined to his chair for most of the play, he’s mainly a sounding board for Catherine Flye’s wordy, wacky, and sometimes witty mother. And Flye’s performance is as impressively athletic as Holmes’ is static. Director John Vreeke has her roaming the stage nonstop, sometimes moving in a broad box step that is equal parts strange and suitable for a woman slightly unhinged. And some of those unhinged moments are spot-on: When the young narrator attempts to credit his mother for his vivid imagination, she snaps back, “I’d rather imagine the worst and be relieved than imagine nothing and be surprised when trouble strikes!” At 13, the narrator is encouraged to read the trashy French romance novels his mother adores; in one of the more believable exchanges, the wisecracking preadolescent asks her where victims “make a poo” when they are thrown into dungeons. The conversation dissolves into an asinine, too-long argument about nobility (“If they cut themselves,” the narrator asks, “is their blood really blue?”), but it serves as heartening testament to the mother’s influence on the budding artist that she indulges each of his combative questions. And, as a testament, the play mostly succeeds. The remarkably moving final scene shows the dying mother talking plainly of carrying her death like a weight, in the same place she carried her children. She cops to her obfuscatory verbal tactics, imploring of the narrator, “Could you tell how I felt about you?” Tremblay stages a theatrical exit for his theatrical mother, and the rambling hour-forty-five feels almost redeemed—until the narrator calls out yet one more off-kilter observation. Damn that translation.—Anne Marson