An Ethereal Production of
Lilies or the Revival of a Romantic Drama was the Quebecois playwright’s first hit and was originally in French (Les Feluettes ou La Repetition d’un Drame Romantique). Bouchard received many awards for it, including the Montreal Journal’s Award for Literary Excellence in 1987. Robert Levesque of Le Devoir said “This play is definitely a masterpiece of Quebec theatre in the 1980s.” At the time it was first presented, it was considered explosive since it involved gay love in very conservative Quebec. The play was translated into English by Linda Gaboriau and it appeared in both Canada and the United States. Lilies was adapted into a film by John Greyson and became an audience favorite in the 1996 San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and won the Canadian Genie (equivalent to the American Academy Award) for best picture of 1996.
Lilies is set in a Quebec prison in 1952. Bishop Jean Bilodeau (Tim Hendrixson) is summoned to the jail to hear the confession of Simon Doucet (Steve Irish), a boyhood friend jailed for a murder 40 years earlier that he did not commit. However, instead of the confession he expects to hear, the bishop is forced to watch a play re-enacted by Doucet’s prison mates detailing the dire and appalling events that transpired in their teenage years. The bishop is forced to admit to his role in the tragedy.
The play within a play tells the story of the younger Doucet (Steven Stobel) and Le Comte Vallier de Tilly (Clayton B. Hodges) who fall in love during a production of the passion play The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. The young Bilodeau (Andy Butterfield), a self righteous prude, objects to the relationship based on his religious belief that love between men is “an abomination.” However, the young man who is going to enter the priesthood has a neurotic love for the beautiful Doucet and he equates the young man to St. Sebastian.
Doucet is not quite sure of his sexuality. He believes he can turn his romantic love for Vallier on and off while Vallier firmly believes that homosexuality is not a chapter in one’s life. He is in love with Doucet and that is all that matters. When he finds out that the two boys have had an illicit affair, Doucet’s father (also played by Steve Irish) savagely beats the young boy. Doucet struggles to renounce his homosexuality, turning to an older, unmarried woman from Paris, Mademoiselle Lyde-Anne (Kevin Cook) to whom he becomes engaged. He believes this will make him a complete heterosexual and he will get rid of his gay feelings. However, it seems that this is almost a platonic relationship during the courting process since it involves only a few light kisses in “public display only.” Bilodeau is very happy about the upcoming nuptials since he considers this a moral victory.
Vallier is heartbroken when he learns of the upcoming marriage of his lover to a woman. He writes a love letter to Doucet which ends up in the hands of his psychologically imbbalanced mother, La Comtesse Marie-Laure de Tilly (acting core member Gregory Wallace). The mother sympathizes with her son since she believes love is love no matter what the sexual orientation. The whole affair ends as a Romeo and Juliet tragedy.
Director Serge Denoncourt has assembled a wonderful cast of A.C.T. actors and graduating Master of the Fine Arts students for an innovating production. He draws from the young students a feeling of the heartache of a lost love and he uses various stage effects that are meant to be symbols of love. Some of the effects are very ethereal and might be hard to understand, such as four brief scenes with a projection of various buildings in the small Quebec village burning down. The playwright uses the elements of fire, water, earth and air to bring home the point of this ghostly play. Some of the characters are very Dickensian, like Gregory Wallace in drag playing the mother of Villier, reminding us of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Even the last scene with the young male lovers, one expects to hear Sergei Prokofiev’s score from Romeo and Juliet.
Steven Strobel and Clayton B. Hodges, both graduating students, are wonderful as Simon and Vallier. They have great chemistry together and both should have great futures in acting. Strobel exhibits Simon’s conflict with persistent conviction while Hodges plays Vallier as a person convinced of his worth and his lasting love for another man. Gregory Wallace is marvelous in drag as La Comtesse de Tilly. This is a showy role and it is delightful to watch the character losing her grip on reality. Andy Butterfield gives an exceptional performance as Simon's neurotic friend, the young Jean Bilodeau. He reminds me of a young Leonardo de Caprio. Kevin Crook as Mademoiselle Anne seems uncomfortable in drag but he does give a certain feeling for the woman of the world. Students Kraig Kehrer and Andrew Fonda Jackson as Baroness de Hue and Father Saint Michel have little to do in this production but they handle their roles competently. Tim Hendrixson is very good as the older Bishop Bilodeau who sees, finally, his part in the tragedy of the two lovers. A.C.T. actor Will Huddleston gives moral support to the young actors in a small role as Baron de Hue.
Costumes by Cassandra Carpenter are mostly from a Canadian production with some derivations. Scenic and Lighting Design by Alexander V. Nichols are well done, with large metal prison bars surrounding the stage as the play within a play unfolds. One is reminded of the prison scene in the recent revival of Man of La Mancha .
Lilies will play in Repertory with Female Transport through April 3rd at the Zeum Theatre, Yerba Buena Gardens (Fourth and Howard) San Francisco. Tickets are available by calling the A.C.T. box office at 415-749-2228 or by visiting www.act-sf.org. This is a co-production of Theatre Rhinoceros whose next production will be the West Coast Premiere of Nicky Silver’s Beautiful Child that opens on March 31st.