If We Were Birds, Imago Theatre at Centaur Theatre

Written by Erin Shields, Directed by Micheline Chevrier
Wednesday, October 9 – Saturday, October 19, 2013

How do you move on, move through, move past inflicted heinous violations? Can vengeance lead to hope? Imago Theatre is honoured to present Erin Shield’s If We Were Birds, winner of the 2011 Governor General’s Award for Drama, from October 9-19 at Centaur Theatre. This moving, funny and unsettling play, with an all-star Montreal cast directed by Micheline Chevrier, gives voice to women forced into silence through violence. Continuing their mandate to encourage dialogue, the company will hold a talkback after each performance.

If We Were Birds springs from the deep bond between two young sisters, characterized by their playfulness, romantic innocence and budding sexuality. An ingenious adaptation of the myth of Tereus, Procne and Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the play features a diverse chorus of contemporary women, each a survivor of a 20th century conflict. The text draws on testimonials of survivors from Nanking (1937), Berlin (1945), Bangladesh (1971), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-95) and Rwanda (1994). The play is a strong indictment against the culture of war and its cycle of violence. It exposes the silence and shame that so often surround sexual violence, whether in times of conflict or in our everyday lives. It asks us to listen to those whom we refuse to see or hear, whose language often offends, whose stories always disturb.

Chevrier has always been attracted to Greek mythology and fascinated with the consequences of war, “The myths beautifully reveal what lurks within each of us; the conflict of human nature, and the battle between reason and passion, order and chaos.” For her, Shields has captured this paradox brilliantly, “The characters are at the same time violent and tender, beautiful and ugly. Shields is incredibly adept at mixing humour and the gut-wrenching, often injecting comedy into tragedy.”
In this visionary retelling, Procne, daughter of Athenian King Pandion, marries war hero King Tereus and sets sail with him for Thrace. Despite the happiness she feels in her new life with her husband and newborn son, she aches to see her beloved sister, Philomela. Procne pleads with Tereus to travel to Athens and bring her sister to her side. But the moment Tereus sets eyes Philomela, his blood is stirred into violent passion. The horrors of war bleed into the family, turning love into rage, rage into revenge, and revenge into incredible personal loss. Here, moments of humour blend with fury, compassion and sobering self-examination. Shields’ work is rich in content and form, with language ranging from heightened to modern vernacular, daring everyone to venture into the land of extremes.

Involved with Imago since 2009, this is Chevrier’s inaugural show as Artistic Director of the company. For her, as long as sexual violence still makes the news, this play is a conversation that has to start now, “One has only to look at what is happening in Juarez, Mexico, where a vigilante woman has taken justice into her own hands, avenging the rape of working women by the local bus drivers; or what has been happening in Egypt- men carrying off women who have come to the public square to make their voices heard, then raping them. Last spring, the mayor of Osaka defended the use of ‘comfort women’ by the Japanese army in the Second World War; pro-rape chants were proudly sung by fraternity members at Yale.” Chevrier continues to be struck by the silence and apathy of governments in bringing the perpetrators to justice, “I have always believed that the greatest crime is to silence someone or a people; in doing so, we effectively kill them.”

For Amelia Sargisson, who plays Philomela, the play raises the disquieting fact that we are all participants in, and victims of, a culture of violence, “I hope this production will inspire people to make small changes within their own lives to resist and help reverse the trend towards social values which not only accept but lionize violence.” According to the play, the effort to do so - to comprehend and even surpass ourselves - is inherent in us.

The well-known company of actors includes Lauryn Allman as Procne, Chip Chuipka as Pandion, Nico Racicot as Tereus, and Amelia Sargisson as Philomela. Playing the chorus of ravaged women who have been transformed into birds are: Deena Aziz, Stefanie Buxton, Shiong-En Chan, Clare Schapiro and Warona Setshwaelo.

Creating the trapped world of the play, complete with perches, rich textures, shadows, and evocative sound and props, are lauded designers Diana Uribe, set and costumes; Rob Thompson, lights; and Peter Cerone, sound. The stage manager is Kira Maros. Chevrier is thrilled with the wealth of talent, varying in age and background, coming together to explore this challenging piece of theatre.

Imago Theatre produces plays that address current issues and represent women’s experiences, perspectives and stories. For the past 26 years, Imago Theatre, along with an active, thinking and opinionated audience, has fostered conversation, encouraged reflection and provoked change.

If We Were Birds
An Imago Theatre production, Centaur Theatre’s Brave New Looks selection for 2013
At Centaur Theatre, Oct. 9-19, 2013
453 St. François-Xavier, Old Montreal
Wednesday to Saturday at 8:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2:30pm

There will be a talkback after each performance.

Tickets for the preview, Wed. Oct.9, are $15

All matinees, October 12, 13 and 19, are pay-what-you-can (Suggested donation $10)
Tickets: $25, $18 (students/seniors/Centaur subscribers/artists)

Box Office: 
514 288-3161 or online: http://www.centaurtheatre.com/tickets.php

This year three Montreal companies join together to offer modern adaptations of classic tales at a great price (4 tickets for $40/students, $60/adults): If We Were Birds, Imago Theatre; The Aeneid, Talisman Theatre; The Iliad and The Odyssey, Geordie Productions. Call Geordie Productions at 514 845-9810 for this package.

1 comment:

  1. This is going to be amazing. I just know it. I can't wait until it opens!