Robert Lepage returns to the boards in Quebec in the audacious play Quills

Robert Lepage returns to the boards in Quebec in the audacious play Quills

Robert Lepage revisits a subject he knows well, and from which he suffered the repercussions in his own career, in the play quillsoffered since January 11 by Le Diamant theater in Quebec City, until January 28. In this piece by author Doug Wright offered by Ex Machina, the prolific artist from the Capitale-Nationale region embodies the Marquis de Sade, under the reign of Napoleon 1st, and talks to us about censorship and freedom of expression. A grandiloquent and provocative role that suits him perfectly.

More precisely, the piece (which is not in its first performances), the fruit of the collaboration of Jean-Pierre Cloutier and Robert Lepage, originated in France, in the Charenton asylum, whose most famous resident is the irrepressible Marquis de Sade played by Robert Lepage. While the director of the establishment believes he can rehabilitate this man who throughout his life has explored, through his pen, the prohibitions of human beings, his sexual drives and his immoral desires, Sade manages by clever stratagems to make publish his sulphurous stories. How far will both go to achieve their ends?

In this proposal, Pierre-Yves Cardinal stands on stage, embodied in the cassock of the Abbé de Coulmier, a charitable and good man, to whom the patients of the Charenton asylum were entrusted. Unlike his predecessors, his techniques are less drastic and violent, this one wishing to heal evil by doing good. He will find in Sade his greatest adversary, a man who will be stripped of all his artifices, but who will never lose the impetuosity, the immorality and the visceral desire to express himself that drive him.

The fight that we are offered between these two men raises questions that are still relevant today: how far should censorship go and who really benefits? If the plot takes us back to the past, the debate is still alive. The demonstration testifies to the vacillating limits of one and the other, and to the dark side that each being conceals.

In this context, we also like to discover the game of Jean-Sébastien Ouellette in the skin of Doctor Royer-Collard, a man with an iron fist, sent to straighten out the management of the Charenton establishment, but himself inhabited by a darkness. In the trappings of Sade’s hated woman, Sophie Faucher turns out to be sparkling as always, in addition to having a few lines that relax the busy atmosphere. Mary-Lee Picknell and Pierre-Olivier Grondin round out the cast nicely.

Faithful to their habits, Ex Machina and Robert Lepage (here with his accomplice Jean-Pierre Cloutier), deliver an imaginative staging, based on a rotating central platform and reflections in the mirrors that surround the stage. Added to this are striking light effects. Thus, we are able to recreate the many corridors of the asylum, multiply the patients who reside there and easily alternate from one scene to another. The last segment is one of the most surprising, which could disturb some, in which the refractions and reflections surprise as much as they can shock.

Certainly, Quills is not for everyone. However, an informed public will be able to appreciate this loaded, daring and subversive work, which is full of striking moments and inventiveness. Obviously, seeing Robert Lepage on stage, whether in one of his creations or in a character like that of the Marquis de Sade, remains an immeasurable pleasure.

Quills is presented at Théâtre Le Diamant in Quebec from January 11 to 28, 2023.

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