Montreal's Wajdi Mouawad announced his first season as artistic director of the NAC's French-language theatre yesterday. The most interesting aspect? For the first time in it's 40-year history, the French theatre will present a play in a different language than French. This is a real statement, since the federally funded NAC is in fact politically mandated to produce French-language theatre.
I interviewed the intense but quiet Mouawad for a good hour and a half while in Ottawa this weekend. Here's my Globe piece about my chat with this true visionary ("Polish can be French too, if we want," he says), but there was a lot I couldn't fit in... (Here are reports in Citizen, Le Droit.)
For instance, I enjoyed Mouawad's astute insights into watching his abstract, poetic plays in English translation. "The francophone theatre is a theatre that is very comfortable with the abstract," he said (in French, this is my translation). "But I know that the Anglo-Saxon theatre world is a lot more attached to realism. So what's fascinated me is on the level of production [of Scorched, the translation of Incendies], how the director [Richard Rose] went as far in the direction of abstraction as he could, but he was still obliged to illustrate some of it. I understand. He was right to do it. But my culture shock, I felt it there. Not in the language, but in the theatre culture."
"The Quebec authors who translate well into Anglo-Saxon are those writers who are very anchored in reality, whether Michel Tremblay or Francois Archambault or Carole Frechette - though Frechette has a degree of abstractness."
Of course, this is also why English-language writers like Sarah Kane are so much popular in French than English...
That said, Wajdi isn't doing half-bad in English. Scorched is going on a pan-Canadian tour in the fall, and he just had his British debut at the Soho theatre in London.