Andrew Moodie's Oui opened last night at the Factory Theatre Mainspace in Toronto. Directed by Layne Coleman, this new work from the playwright of the extraordinary Riot is described as a political romantic comedy. Like its illustrious predecessor, the freshness of Moodie's style continues in Oui, with healthy doses of sparkling dialogue, sharp humour, and stellar acting. Simply put, Oui is one of the most intelligently written plays seen in Toronto this season.
Political plays are difficult to balance, evolving into skewed soapbox screamfests, but Moodie succeeds where others have failed. This time we get both points of view directed with such intelligence that the passions governing the characters are understood, and can even be admired, from whatever side of the fence one stands.
Moodie has taken a timely topic from our own backyard, and given us both sides of the issue embodied in a thoroughly French, but not Quebecois, family. It's 1995, the eve of the last (latest?) Quebec referendum with a recently bereaved Ottawa family at war with themselves. Political clashes pale against the fiery sibling rivalry of twins Pierre (Paul Essiembre), a staunch Federalist and Young Liberal, and "Quebecoise wannabe separatist" Marie-Claire (Marie-Josee Lefebvre). The play begins with a marvelously choreographed sibling fight replete with screaming, shoving, profanity and all the anger our actors can muster. Marie-Claire is staying in the basement of the family home, now occupied by Pierre and his anglophone Albertan wife Andrea (Kelli Fox). Fixing the pipes, and hoping for a reconciliation with Marie-Claire is her ex-husband hockey puck of a philanderer, Marc (John Wildman).
As fervid emotions inspired by the referendum spin this already explosive family into chaos, Pierre's best friend Benoit (Andrew Moodie in actor's cap), a Franco-Ontarian living in Hull, arrives. Moodie echos his role in Riot, that of a bystander/narrator who interacts and jokes with the audience, an arresting device that sometimes seemed contrived, especially
when wagering with a man in the front row that Benoit will verbalize his love for Marie-Claire before the show ends. In Oui, Benoit watches the action but his apathetic lack of conviction effects his politics, both real and sexual. In one of Moodie's best lines, Benoit has to decide how to vote in the referendum and his decision is "he can always vote in the next one."
The actors portray characters whose identity shapes and moulds their relationships. Moodie, as benign as ever, gives the apathetic Benoit a humourous edge, in stark counterpoint to Essiembre's intense, passionate Pierre. A Stratford Festival veteran, Essiembre's penetrating and engaging interpretation of Pierre was a revelation. Lefebvre plays Marie-Claire's blazing separatist with fire and conviction ingratiating the audience to her point of view and continuing the laughs with lines like "Parizeau is like an old uncle that kisses you too long." The superlative Fox (1996 Stage Door Award winner) has a supporting role in which she succeeds but doesn't quite lift her character to the heights possible.
Dani Rornain designs set and costumes, while Lesley Wilkinson (another 1996 Stage Door Award winner) designs lights.
Oui is a passionate, funny and bittersweet play about how language and culture can effect relationships. Moodie's work may showcase some stereotypes, but it's so well written and directed that we cared for these characters and understood their passions, whatever ours are. For tickets, call Factory Theatre at 416/504-9971.