Guardians of the Cross. Celebrating an Anniversary with Satire and Absurdity
While he’s been called the Chekov of St. Henri in the Charlebois Post, Alain Mercieca is far closer to ancient Athens’ Aristophanes. Yes, Aristophanes is the guy who wrote the play about the women who had a sex strike but failed to stay celibate. Like the Greek playwright, Mercieca draws on the world around him for his comedy, putting contemporary events and local personalities in his work. His latest bilingual comedy, the Guardians of the Cross (Le Dernier Brigadier), takes on corruption in Montreal’s construction industry, and dually serves as the anniversary work for Mercieca’s performance organization, Le Nouveau International.
“Guardians of the Cross is about crossing guards,” Mercieca says, “One of them, Val Bueno, gets murdered and all the crossing guards in the community have to figure out what happened. But it’s also about corruption in the construction industry.”
Mercieca explains how the play grew out of a real person and location. “There’s this crossing guard that always complains about the construction at Brodie Farm Park. The whole story is centered there. I’ve been watching the construction of that park every day.”
Mercieca combines this with headlines about the shady side of Montreal’s construction industry. In doing so, he captures a very common sentiment of indignation and disgust. As he says, “It’s that feeling of being appalled at what is going on in the city.” For him, “the crossing guards become the unsung heroes who are trying to fight against that.”
As always, though, expect hilarity and quirky characters rather than a preachy political diatribe. “It’s a bit absurd. There’s a quest to find the first crossing guard ever,” he says. “And there are two thugs hired by the corrupt construction industry, one who writes poetry.”
Mercieca further explains. “One of the thugs took a creative writing class and questions what a thug’s role is. He sees poetry in life. The other is really opposed to that.”
Mercieca’s play marks the fourth anniversary of Le Nouveau International, a performance-based organization / theatre company housed at Theatre St. Catherine.
“It’s our anniversary, so we do a play,” Mercieca says. “Art first. Other people say family first, but we say art first, family second.” The celebration includes not only the play, but an awards ceremony with such coveted awards as the Golden Brick to the best company newcomer.
Mercieca recounts Le Nouveau International’s history. “We started literally in Rosemont and Mark [Louch] and I were like let’s do a show in our basement.” They tore up the space and went for it. The company evolved from there, spending some time in Theatre 314, and continues to grow in its not-so-new home. Many indie-theatre Montrealers are connected, Sandi Armstrong, Al Lafrance, Lee Zenio, and Cath Moreau to name a few.
“A lot of people have moved to Toronto,” Mercieca jokes, “Soon as they get talented, they ditch us for something legit.”
But he’s not sour at all. Theatre St. Catherine has a regular cult following and according to Mercieca, they “[f]inally joined the 21st century with a website and a feature film in the works called Ogoki Nights.”
But mostly, “[w]e’ve done a lot of plays,” Mercieca says.
“We call it theatre for people who don’t like theatre. We make plays we want to see because we also hate stuffy, taxidermy theater for geriatric people,” Mercieca says.
In the background, Le Nouveau Paul Naiman compatriot shouts out, “Come for the play, stay for the community.”
Guardians of the Cross is at Theatre St. Catherine Dec. 19-21 at 8 p.m. $10. The anniversary party follows the Saturday (21st) show.