Seeing Her Again - 5/20/02
Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again

Also see Richard's reviews of Sexaholix ... A Love Story
and Joyful Noise

Olympia Dukakis has returned to the American Conservatory Theatre stage at the Geary Theatre to star in the chamber piece, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again. The two character memory play is by Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay, the foremost dramatist in Canada who is being called "Quebec's Chaucer" and, "Quebec's Dante." Ms. Dukakis' costar is Marco Barricelli, an ensemble performer at ACT.

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again premiered in its original French at the Theatre du Rideau Vert in Montreal under the title "Encore une Fois, Si Nous Permettez." The play was such a great success that it was translated into English by Linda Gaboriau and that version premiered at the Centaur Theatre in the same city two months later. The drama had its United States premiere at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in 2000. Last year it had the great distinction of being the first Canadian play to play the National Theatre of Ireland in its 100 year history.

The play is based on Mr. Tremblay's life with his mother, who passed away from cancer before his first play was seen on the Canadian stage. It is a simple play and there is no standard plot, only the development of the relationship he had with his very vexatious mother. The play is broken into five vignettes depicting the author at the ages of 10, 13, 16, 18 and 20. Five conversations, some comedic and some very dramatic, take place during the play that runs for the 2 hour 10 minutes with intermission.

Mr. Barricelli, the narrator and son, comes out onto a nearly bare stage that has just two chairs and ghost light. He opens the drama with a wonderful monologue in which he tells the audience that there will be no ghosts, no witches from Macbeth, no one being turned into a rhinoceros, no "doll house" wife leaving her husband, no daughters haggling over the land of their father, the King, no sword fights and no one coming out of garbage cans to talk about life. He simply wants the audience to meet his mother. She is everywoman and we will recognize her. "You've seen her before, on stage, in the audience, in the street. I just wanted the pleasure of seeing her again. The pleasure of hearing her. So she could make me laugh and cry one more time, if I may."

Pleasure goes into a series of scenes and circumscribes a moment in the child's life in a way which may not be apparent to the audience. Through these conversations the narrator has learned the value of honesty, fearlessness and loyalty. His mother gives him stern warnings, and he experiences hereditary guilt complexes through her off-handed stories that are sometimes very funny. This woman loves to talk.

The first act drags a bit and the two scenes are entirely too long with most of the conversation coming from the mother, developing the character into a boring and nagging person. The first sketch, wherein the author is 10 years old, involves a policeman coming to her house to make a complaint about her son. He has been caught throwing blocks of ice at oncoming cars on the street. Apparently this is quite a sport during the winter in Canada. The scene does establish the character of the mother as being a figure of authority and power over the son. However it is still too long.

The second scene is a discussion of French Romantic Literature. The son wonders why the French have so many orphans in their novels and, when they are thrown into a dungeon, how to they go to the bathroom. Again this goes on for such a considerable length of time that it becomes tiresome.

The second act is livelier and better constructed. There is more interaction between mother and son. Some of the silly humor of the mother when she is talking about a relative gives the play genuine life. There are two wonderful scenes in this act involving the mother telling of a night at an amateur ballet where her 7 year-old niece was dancing and a hilarious argument between the son and mother about her cooking of the weekly roast beef over the years.

The last scene is surprisingly marvelous. The mother is slowly dying of cancer and she wants to reconcile any differences with her son. Though it could be very melodramatic, there is a wonderful funny twist. This comic scene has got to be seen.

Olympia Dukakis is good in the role of the mother but lacks a certain charisma. She shows no range of emotion and her voice is strictly monotone and mechanical. She speaks too fast in some of the scenes and it is hard to understand her. Marco Barricelli acts in direct contrast to Ms. Dukakis. His voice is powerful and he modulates his emotions perfectly. He is able to transform from a 10 year-old boy to a man of 20 without any problem.

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, will play through June 9, and tickets can be obtained by calling the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. The number is (415)749-2228. ACT's final production of 2001-02 season will be Sam Shepard's Buried Child, which opens on June 14.

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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