Being a rule-breaker and unstoppable rebel, I say: screw Aristotle and forget unity of place!

But maybe he had a point: staging literal journeys on stage can be tricky.  But when it’s well done, it can be pretty awesome.

Here are my favourite plays about travel. 4 out of 5 of them are Canadian.

Is this list completely biased? Yes, yes it is.

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Passing Places by Stephen Greenhorn

Passing Places/Points Tournants photo credit: Marlène Gélineau Payette

I saw a production of this Scottish “road movie for the stage” in a French translation at one of my very favourite theatres in Montreal: Théâtre de la Licorne (which has recently reopened after renovations with a very exciting new season that includes Rearview (see below) and My Pregnant Brother).

It was 2006, but the production of Points Tournants (trans. Olivier Choinière) was so funny, fast-paced, and beautiful that images of it are seared into my mind.

It somehow worked that these two guys speaking Quebecois slang were driving from Motherwell to Thurso (with a stop in one of the most gorgeous places in the whole wide world: the Isle of Skye) in a puttering Lada trying to sell a stolen surfboard with an ex-boss (and his imaginary friend) hot on their heels.

There was a car on stage. In a tiny black box theatre. That kind of thing impresses me when it’s done well.  It was.

What a trip!

BRIAN. Maps. Imaginary landscapes. Representations of the world. All the information’s there. Everything you need to know. But you still have to prescribe your own course of action.

ALEX. What the fuck are you on about?

BRIAN. A map’s not for telling you where to go. What it tells you is exactly where you are. It only describes your position. You have to decide your own destination and journey. See?

Pause.

ALEX. This is going to be a very long drive, isn’t it?

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Rearview by Gilles Poulin-Denis

Rearview

A one-man road-trip from Montreal through Northern Ontario (produced by La troupe du jour).  Apparently this piece was written by the Fransaskois actor to give himself a meaty role, but looks like a brilliant new playwright was born in the process.

As Guy sits in his typical motel room, he looks back on his wild night of driving through the Canadian Shield and we learn how he fled an awkward party in hoity-toity Ville Mont-Royal only to end up here, in the middle of nowhere, always looking behind his shoulder.

Brilliant writing, acting, and staging.

I saw this production in May 2011 at La Nouvelle Scène in Ottawa, and it looks like you could catch this play about travelling as it travels to Montreal in December 2011.

GUY. On rentre dans un village. Rolphton. Sure, pourquoi pas. C’est weird. Y a personne Manu, c’est mort. On va traverser le village pis vite parce qu’y a rien icitte ! Pas de restaurant, pas de station de gaz, pas personne. Je te gage que ça grouille plus dans le cimetière.

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Le Collier d’Hélène by Carole Fréchette

Helen's Necklace

One of the most beautiful plays I have never seen.  I’ve read Helen’s Necklace (trans. John Murrell) several times and even heard Fréchette read it once, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten.  Still, it remains one of my favourite plays.

We follow Hélène, a woman visiting Beirut for a conference, as she wanders the streets of a ruined city, searching for the effervescent necklace she has lost.  She encounters people who have lost much more than she has, but the stabbing pain is universal and the simple beauty of language and being confronted with the world is breathtaking.

Carole Fréchette talks about her play (en français!)

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Inexpressible Island by David Young

Inexpressible Island

I saw this play in 1998 when it was presented by Necessary Angel in a very cold theatre in Toronto. This is a different kind of travel.  The kind that brings you to Antarctica for science (and to plant a flag) in 1912; the kind that makes men go mad, fight over chocolate, pray for survival, and bite off frost-bitten fingers (that image will never leave my brain, I’m afraid).

Exceptional, exciting writing. Nothing near the territory of crusty historical dramas.

PRIESTLY.  I remember how the loss of a single biscuit crumb left a sense of personal injury which lingered for a week. How the greatest friends were so much on each other’s nerves that they did not speak for days for fear of consequences. That prowling danger behind another man’s eyes. (Pause.) You have forgotten the real game, Dickie… how we warmed our hands on the fiercest fires of Hell.

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Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project)

Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project)

This play resonated with me so much.  I know it’s not because I learned to walk and talk in South Africa.  And I don’t think it’s just because the production I saw at Tarragon Theatre starred two of my favourite Toronto actors (Michelle Monteith and David Jansen)… it may have been the extraordinarily well integrated physicality, the set made out of suitcases (I’m a sucker for that kind of thing), the mystery at the core of the plot, the in-your-face/delicately nuanced performances, and the intimate look at the meeting of cultures…

Whatever it was, I loved this play by Theatrefront, a unique collaboration by Canadian and South African artists over two continents.

I was thrilled to find out Ubuntu will be touring: if you’re in Canada’s west this winter, check it out!


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