We meet the Passion of Narcisse Mondoux’s titular figure as he stumbles past the church door he’s looking for. It happens more than once, actually—the music shifting from sombre organ to more of a goofy bustle—as he goes back and forth at a frantic clip, but Mondoux (Brian Dooley) isn’t hurrying to pay his respects—he’s there to hit on the still-living. Specifically, the now-widowed Laurencienne (Manon Beaudoin) as she’s head-to-toe in mourning blacks for her now-departed husband, a city councillor in their tiny village. Having just-retired as master plumber, Mondoux convinces her to let him fix a sink gurgle at her house, which is where the bulk of The Passion unfolds: in her living room, with him confidently blustering towards a long-awaited romantic coup—complete with knowing nods out to us, each scored by a musical note—only to find himself undercut by her own passions and intents.
Swapping between English and French performances on alternating nights, The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux is a rom-com written by Quebecois playwright Gratien Gélinas in the ’80s for his wife. That decade is definitely where a lot of its thinking lives: Narcisse scowls at feminism, spurts off a torrent of boxed-in gender-role thinking that wouldn’t be out of place in some of the more uncomfortable corners of the Internet today. But if there’s something to be gained in blowing the dust off the script like this, it’s that ultimately, this production makes The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux as much a redemption of a small-minded love-fool as it is a sunset-years romance. He blusters out his ideas while she sits, listening, then neatly undercuts them with rational precision, bringing him around to a new way of thinking. “It’s more than I deserve,” he offers late in the play, and, honestly, by modern standards, he’s probably right. But it’s to the credit of this co-production between Northern Light Theatre and L’Uni that the change feels earned, the source material elevated by the production’s approach.
Partly, that’s direction—Trevor Schmidt inflates the clownier aspects of the script, allowing the ridiculous to seem ridiculous—and partly it’s casting: Dooley’s adept at the self-confident bluster of Mondoux, capable of being challenged and changed without losing steam. And Beaudoin is excellent: her Laurencienne radiates a confident intelligence and warmth.
It’s a bit on the saccharine side, and quick to find its ending. But there’s a certain charm to The Passion, too, creeping through its age to offer up that understanding and compromise are key to matters of the heart.
Until Sat, Apr 9 (7:30 pm; English performances on Apr 8 [7:30 pm & 11:30 pm], Apr 9)
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
La Cite Francophone, $23 – $28 Ian