They were sitting among us. All of them. Then came the time to speak up. Each burst out of their sphere of discontent and restrained composure. We may have felt a tinge of surprise –- but then it only became a pattern we got used to. When it was time to target the leading archetype of the scapegoat with blunt speeches featuring idiosyncratic values, they spoke up. Well, it certainly looked as though the recurring character of the play became the receptacle for all the hatred of their words, taking on the role of shelter, of a human shield meant to protect us, I guess. Hold on… that is, to protect us from the bitter aggressiveness within ourselves?
Tranche-Cul (Ass-slicer) by young playwright Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard has us traveling inside the “I” as an individual and as a part and parcel of a group in society by giving a careful look and listen to the weight of our opinions, the value of our values, the right we may have to tell or not to tell.
Insidiously enough (and I enjoyed it) the audience feels driven by the speaker’s speech. They end up convinced. Yes, the situation is given a context, but we’re in the midst of it. That was what the stage is for; at least, the pure, the crude, and the blunt take the stage as a cover. So, no need for an apology. The play aptly demonstrates how animal we still are and how devious we can be when it’s about saving one’s life over somebody else’s. Furthermore, we must not fight against it. As if a shade of determinism would explain it all, as if eugenics and natural selection would relieve the burden of guilt we feel when relating to the gut-spilt contents of other souls.
But implicitly, this also means that the warning message conveyed by this dramatic patch-up of monologues is to beware of extreme individuals expressing racist, gender-biased, hateful, and discriminative opinions – hmmm, no convictions. Their word is their flag; that is what they believe in. By staging individuals who destroy other individuals through their free use of verbal violence, who even end up killing the weakest, the performance leaves us with the questioning of our own values. I wondered if I would be able to voice a clear statement about what I believe in and what I condemn. But beyond all sorts of considerations, one of the play’s most dangerous question is “Who is allowed to speak up?” And at the bottom of this, “Are we allowed to have hateful opinions?”, “Is it possible or acceptable to promote war and discrimination?”
The repartee is far from a clear-cut. It rather initiates as a negation full of shuddered, distorted gestures, the breath is uncertain, the hesitation insistent. Then, an explosion. The character -– a doctor, a thief, a receptionist, a so-called friend, a prospective employee — erupts, and their atomic words, sharp particles of truth, are emitted in our direction. They impregnate us and we are the play’s scapegoat. Anne Trudel is us all. Except, her unspoken act of repressed living prepares a tragic ending for herself. She shuts up and does nothing to prevent her fate. Is it then that the animal part has to perform? Those questions are among the numerous issues that the play raises…
Because, yes, at some point, all the others ran. Like mad horses. Out of breath, they ran for their lives towards the apocalyptic blinding light which minimizes the price of each individual life. In the face of the dying universe, one must but make the nihilist assertion that one life is not worth that much. Life does not look any bigger than a grain of sand. Therefore, if lost, if murdered, a life won’t make much of a difference eventually, don’t you think?
Oh my. To make a long review short, I was left with this: if art can be used as a medium for free expression, and the creation process an act when one seizes freedom, then who is allowed to create and who should refrain from it? And more importantly, who should the judge of that? The author, the spectator, the critic? Ultimately and paradoxically, being able to make an artistic statement can only happen because of the playwright’s empowerment to use the full free range of expression. Being able to ask questions and to acknowledge violence, is reassuring. We’re still human beings after all.
Or, are we really?
Tranche Cul plays at Espace Libre until December 20. $32/25.