ALDEN: Against All Odds
by Maurice Arseneau
With the French production of Rick Merrill’s Alden: Against All Odds, translated by Mélanie Léger and which I have had the pleasure of directing, the Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie’s 42nd season will see it produce its fifth translation in a decade. As the Artistic Director of the TPA, I have made a conscious decision to add translations by authors from Atlantic Canada to our repertoire of original Acadian creations and classic & contemporary francophone pieces. I find Acadians and Francophones from our corner of the country have a lot in common with their Anglophone neighbours: we share the same land, the same natural resources, the same politicians, often the same sense of humour and of course the same distance from Canada’s larger urban centers. I therefore find it an interesting and important exercise to bridge our artistic communities. It pleases me as well to see francophone plays being translated and produced by our Anglophone theatre colleagues in the Maritimes.
Alden Nowlan was born in 1933, in a small isolated village in Nova-Scotia. While having been forced to quit school in fifth grade, he would become, by all accounts, one of the most important authors in English Canadian literature; hence the addition of the words “against all odds” to the title of the French production. As a young boy, he found solace from the prevailing violence around him by reading every book in the local library. Hiding his literary interests from his parents, who held no value to education, he would write poems in secrecy, and little by little developed himself into a self-taught author. He would go on to spend the majority of his adulthood in New-Brunswick as a columnist, journalist, speech-writer (penning the bulk of Premier Richard Hatfield’s speeches during his tenure as Prime Minister), playwright, and publisher of a number of collections of poetry, as well as two novels deemed to have been influential on an entire generation of authors. In today’s society, which still remains a ways away from achieving total literacy, the story of this marginal man stands out as particularly impressive and relevant as ever.
Notable about this piece is that the author, Rick Merrill, borrows words from Nowlan himself in order to tell the burly literary giant’s tale of laughter. An accurate translation was therefore paramount, and we are extremely grateful that Mélanie Léger was able to make use of her residency period with TPA to tackle this important task – this in turn was thanks to the Suzanne-Cyr award she received in 2013 by the Foundation for the advancement of francophone theatre in Canada. Merrill, we should recall, also gave us Bump – La secousse de Springhill, a production which I translated and which Mathieu Chouinard directed for the TPA in Feburary of 2014.
Yet another challenge was to find a man suitable to bring back to life on stage the literary giant Alden Nowlan. To do so, we chose to hand the role to an Acadian giant in his own right, Serge Brideau, lead singer of rock group Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire. Alongside him will be actors Marcel-Romain Thériault, Marie-Pierre Valay-Nadeau, and Marc-André Robichaud, playing the parts of nearly fifty other characters. This play gives us an opportunity to delve into the humour, the irony and especially the authenticity of this celebrated author. It is written as if Alden himself was watching his own life flash before him in the minutes before his own death. Luc Rondeau’s set décor is intended to convey the “scrapbook of his life”. The score by Jean-François Mallet lends support to the action on stage and aids also to situate us in time (Alden lived from 1933 to 1983). Finally, the lighting by Marc Paulin helps us distinguish the variety of different locations where the evolution of these characters takes place.
Alden: Against All Odds will be presented on a tour of New Brunswick from February 9th to 27th, with each showing beginning at 7:30pm, with show dates as follows:
February 9th, Caraquet – Caraquet Cultural Centre;
February 11th, Néguac – Théâtre Richard-Denys;
February 12th, Tracadie – Polyvalente W.-A.-Losier;
February 16th, Bathurst – École Secondaire Nepisiguit;
February 17th, Moncton – Théâtre l’Esccaouette;
February 18th, Fredericton – Théâtre Bernard-Poirier;
February 19th, Saint-John – Théâtre Louis Vermeersch;
February 20th, Shediac – Polyvalente Louis-J.-Robichaud;
February 24th, Edmundston – UMCE Amphitheater;
February 25th, Saint-Quentin – Polyvalente A.-J. Savoie;
February 26th, Dalhousie – École L.E.R.;
February 27th, Shippagan – École Marie-Esther