One day, a disheveled aimless boy met an uptight, overwound girl. They were everything that should have made for the oddest pairing ever and yet, in “Midsummer (une pièce et neuf chansons)”, it works and keeps working. Written by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, translated into French by Olivier Choiniére and directed by Philippe Lambert, “Midsummer”, this play from Montreal’s Théâtre de La Manufacture debuted at the Berkeley Theatre on February 25.
Bob (Pierre-Luc Brillant) is a Dostoyevsky-reading, guitar-playing vagabond who, at 35, copes with impending middle age by deciding to book off on a backpack tour through Europe, busking with his guitar to fund his way. He’s sitting in a bar one rainy night when Helena (Isabelle Blais) approaches him rather forwardly. As “Midsummer” unfolds, we see this is a way for her to release the stress that’s been building up from her job as a lawyer; as she gets to know Bob (how he fumbles introducing himself is pure comedic gold), her forwardness becomes a way for her to get more in touch with the person she’s tamped down over the years.
As much as they both agree they’re far too opposite in nature for things to ever work out, they somehow can’t stay away from each other. And so begins a weekend of increasingly crazy adventures, which include a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, a little nephew who strips naked in front of a church, a money-seeking mobster, a Japanese bondage workshop and a boat to Belgium. There’s no possible way this could ever happen in real life but that’s not the point. The crux is these two characters need a sea of madness in which to cast their anchor and find stability among the storm, even if it means learning that lesson with a group of goth kids.
The set design doesn’t change but through the clever use of lighting (André Rioux) and sound (Brillant), we’re taken all through the streets of Edinburgh over the weekend and at all times of day and night. Push the chairs together, and you’ve got the initial bar scene. Move them away from the table, and you’re now in the Japanese bondage club. And turn the house lights on with the stage lights dimmed, and now you’re inside Bob’s dream. It’s all very quick and clever and wonderfully utilizes the upstairs space at the Berkeley Theatre.
But there are two main things that set “Midsummer” apart as something special and that’s its dialogue and music. Bob and Helena’s lines are snappy, awkward, bumbling, rambling and lightning-paced, packing in an awful lot of information into the 100-minute play. Each character goes off on their own tangents, switching between introspecting about themselves and talking about what the other is doing. And Brillant and Blais have their patter just about down pat, zinging off words with few rhythm or speaking errors.
The music — as the title suggests — is one of the main parts of “Midsummer”, but don’t call this play a musical. It just happens to be a play with music in it, with Bob and Helena picking up guitars (and even a ukulele at one point) and singing about their woebegone lives. This addition is what makes “Midsummer” so adorable and fun to watch, whether the duo are singing about love splitting hearts in two or what they can compare their hangovers to.
Brillant is responsible for the music in this play and he manages to come up with a list of songs that are little gems for their simplicity. It helps, too, that Blais has a clear, strong voice that pairs well with Brillant’s limited, yet comforting, low voice. Neither will be winning an award for their singing anytime soon but it’s because of that that the music works so well. You really get a sense of watching two people make themselves vulnerable to each other and share a number of intimate moments, and the effect is quite powerful. At times, it almost feels a little voyeuristic but before it veers too much in that direction, Brillant pops in another lighthearted and easy song to lift the mood.
Like their characters, “Midsummer” is a bit rough around the edges and doesn’t always know where it’s going in life. But that factor of imperfection is what makes it so much fun to watch, as it’s a look inside two messed up people’s lives and what happens when they dare to step out of their own comfort zones. And while Guy Mignault’s zesty introduction is always something to look forward to, in this case, it just seems to fit the night’s theme all the more appropriately.
“Midsummer (une pièce et neuf chansons)” runs through March 1 at the Berkeley Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit the website of Théâtre français de Toronto.