Canadian Highway 138 runs for 658 miles from Quebec city to Kegashka (pop.138). That’s west to east and prosaic black spruce all the way. Stay with me. It’s a man’s fascination with Google Maps.
The Carousel is born of this territory but it turns, rises and falls, in poetic time. There is more colour, less regularity, than in The List, the first of Jennifer Tremblay’s magisterial three plays of Woman. I put it like that just to ask what ‘magisterial’ brings to mind; I see a bewhiskered male, probably in waistcoat with gold fob watch, handing down small judgements. See Maureen Beattie in The Carousel, directed by Muriel Romanes, and think again. As a whole this trilogy is masterful (sic), and enjoys an extraordinary, gendered language and authority.
The Woman (Beattie) tells stories of her childhood and young adult years. It travels up and down Highway 138, to grim convent school, to a failing farm, and then joyously to Paris. It calls on her grandmother, her mother and father, her step-father, and she makes the greatest of her appeals to her three small boys; but naturally and consciously, as her memories turn about, it is always her history and her awareness of that history that matters.
Beattie’s performance is again remarkable. She has to sound and ‘be’ younger here: a child on her grandparent’s farm, a student, a wife and lover. She is a terrified girl on the back of a runaway horse; she is happy in grandma’s wardrobe; she burns with desire in a louche hotel, but all the while she notices what the hard men are doing – or aren’t doing. They are, sad to say, best defined by their absence.
John Byrne’s design, part mirrored merry-go-round, part reflective space, and Jeanine Byrne’s lighting all allow Beattie to move with complete freedom – in and out of states of mind that never lose their distinctive clarity, even when she’s rolling backwards across the stage.
The programme comes with the Woman’s family tree on its reverse, which is helpful. And actually – I concede – more use here than Google Maps.