Encore Theatre launched last year with a promise to provide edgy, exciting, and gritty theatre.
Another way of saying it is that they want to bring Sudbury audiences theatre experiences that aren’t usually available in mainstream venues.
So the play Alphonse by Montreal playwright Wajdi Mouawad is a good choice to begin their second season.
Alphonse is a very special piece of theatre.
The play features only one performer with no set, costumes, or props, and only a few projections, lighting changes, and thunder sounds to establish settings. Minimal, you’d say, yet only minimal in those physical ways.
It also offers dozens of characters and many leaps of time and place, but it’s up to the performer and the audience to collectively create those places together.
Theatre people insist that “live” theatre is a creative process, and Alphonse is a perfect example.
The simple plot involves the young boy Alphonse going for a walk and not coming home — many people are looking for him, and a police inspector is interviewing acquaintances and schoolmates.
Meanwhile Alphonse keeps walking, fantasizing about the exciting exploits of a character named Pierre-Paul René who, among other things, is on a quest to rescue the world’s cake recipes from an evil force.
Along the way we come to understand Alphonse’s awakening to disillusionment: with family, broken friendships, and even young romance.
It is a story about a young boy’s journey toward adulthood and, as the narrator explains in the beginning, what it might be like if an adult could ever come face-to-face with the child he once was.
What would they think of each other?
Is a part of us left behind with childhood? Reluctantly, or deliberately?
The material is challenging yet always charming, adult yet childlike. Certainly actress France Huot deserves a huge amount of credit.
The play is roughly an hour and 40 minutes long, with no intermission, and Huot captivates the audience throughout.
She adroitly embodies school children, adults, and fantastical characters, making them real enough to be recognized when they reappear.
For that Huot needs to draw upon every bit of her experience and theatrical skills, including clown training.
But it’s not her accomplishment alone. It’s clear that director Jenny Hazleton and the rest of the production team have given many hours of thought to how each element of the script had to be presented to make it come alive for the audience.
The result of their efforts is storytelling of great complexity that appears effortless.
Alphonse will draw you in, make you laugh, think, and reminisce. It’s a gem of live theatre well worth seeing.
Alphonse continues each evening at 8 p.m. through Jan. 26 at the Ernie Checkeris Theatre at Thorneloe University. Tickets and information at www.encoretheatre.ca or at the door.
Scott Overton is the morning host on Rewind 103.9 and author of the thriller novel Dead Air. He writes theatre reviews for Northern Life.