Review of Louis Riel at the Festival de Casteliers

Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves

Zach Fraser’s puppets and of adult puppet work in general is always delightful. Louis Riel based on the graphic novel by Chester Brown is presented with a great number of really clever two dimensional drawings, carried, and sometimes attached to the set, by actual actors. This is such a clever devise that it gives the theatrical work momentum. My personal favourite was a train (very significant to the plot) which is lit by its own miniature lighting, and carried across the stage by an actor.

Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves

Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves

The flat two dimensional black and white cartoons of the personae, scenery and props ultimately become an objective correlative of the entire work. The writing is flat in a story-telling narration which delivers most of the history of Luis Riel with little of the passion. In a very Brechtian way this is all good presentational theatre… but even Brecht needed music at key moments. So for most of the play one has already figured out the perfidy of a greedy, dishonest not to mention unjust John A. MacDonald and the list of betrayals and goes on and on and yes it was awful, but where is the passion and drama?

For those of us who have heard of the horrors of the battle of Batoche and were fascinated by the mysterious leader of the Métis nation, the play offers no new insights, but rather re-iterates what we have already learned. Even the battle with its visual “blams” was rather understated and dull. Riel’s wife hardly put up a fight to keep him from returning to battle.

Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves

Louis Riel. Photo Sabrina Reeves

It is worth going out to see the innovation of this particular kind of “comic strip” puppetry but at nearly two hours it begins to wear one out. It needs an edit and some dramaturgy, and more interesting dialogue.

Louis Riel is at La Chapelle Theatre (3700 Rue Saint Dominique) until March 5. Tickets and schedule HERE. $32.50/$28.50.

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