Humour and feminism in Joual

By Tara DiBenedetto

"It’s funny, but it’s reality," says actress Devona Reid. "It’s a brutal reality."

The University of Calgary’s drama department will soon open its 35th season with Michel Tremblay’s groundbreaking play, Les Belles-Soeurs. Originally written in Joual, Quebec’s working class dialect, and then translated and performed in Enlgish, Tremblay’s play was the first to detail the lives of the Québecois working class women.

"This is the story of real people," says Reid, who plays the main character in the play, Germaine Lauzon.

"The kinds of things that they have to deal with are very real: looking after your children and going to church. Their mundane lives end up getting thrown into turbulence."

This turbulence occurs when Germaine Lauzon wins a million gold stamps at the grocery store, planing to redeem them through a catalogue and renovate her house. Actor Amanda Ball, Germaine’s sister Rose Ouimet, outlines the plot.

"We’re a bunch of really low class women from Montreal," she says. "We all come over to Germaine’s house for a stamp-pasting party. It’s really about basic interaction between women who know each other quite well. They’re really very depressing people. They’re uneducated, low-class, they’ve got nothing, they swear."

"They’re very repressed women," adds Reid.

"It’s really quite sad but Michel Tremblay invites you to laugh at how pathetic these women are," continues Ball.

Despite some heavy subject matter, "the audience won’t be crying," assures Ball.

"It’s actually very funny," says Reid. "We have a good time with it and that will transmit really well to the audience. It’s a bunch of women, their relationships, how they fight, how they get along and how they look after and support each other when it comes down to the crunch."

When it first premiered, Les Belles-Soeurs was very controversial and had a lasting impact on Quebec culture and theatre.

"One of the reasons is that the church is not portrayed as a good influence on the women,"says Reid. "In the play, it’s something quite oppressive and the whole institution of family, in the sense of being a duty and not a choice for women is shown as very oppressive to women. It also portrays these women in a very poor light. It’s not a nice picture."

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