James Ryan Gobuty
Pleaides Theatre’s production of Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, is a heart-wrenching peak into two people’s souls. This little known gem from Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay follows the pious and chaste Manon (Irene Poole), as she struggles with her faith and her uncommonly large rosary; and the fabulous yet fading Sandra (Richard McMillan), as she contemplates turning herself and all her lovers green. The monologues — sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious — explore the different ways reverence can be performed in our daily lives. By standing staunch religiosity next to drag queen glam, Tremblay reveals that there is more in common between these two ladies than a shared French-Canadian heritage.
Director John Van Burek, who also translated the original script into English, artfully brings all the darkness and camp of Tremblay onto stage full force. The distance between the two actors, though minute, seems like an ocean dividing the two. It’s as if each actor is in their own world. And yet, they are bridged by their pain and their desire (often the same thing) until the play’s final climactic moment when their worlds collide and one is left wondering, who is real?
The stage design by Teresa Przybylski and the lighting design by Itai Erdal provide a setting as strange and intriguing as the play’s characters. The play is set beneath a standalone, square shaped arch, in lieu of a proscenium built into the stage. Throughout the play, only specific sections of the arch are lit, creating a rotating effect, like the passing of time; as Sandra becomes more and more enthralled by her green fantasies, the lighting becomes greener. As the action progresses, a giant figure starts to become visible backstage. It is a massive statue of the Virgin Mary, the hidden third character in the show. This otherworldly figure of both piety and femininity, bathed in green light, reveals how alike Manon and Sandra are. For them the ultimate ideal of “woman” is the same, and unattainable for either of them.
Manon, Sandra, and the Virgin Mary is a powerful play that investigates what it means to worship in this thoroughly modern world of ours. By placing two very different forms of reverence side by side, Tremblay, and the Pleaides Theatre team reveal just how similar they really are; they demonstrate that we all share in a desperate, yet always missed search for meaning in our lives.
Manon Sandra and The Virgin Mary runs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, until February 2. Tickets: PWYC-$37.00. For more information visit http://buddiesinbadtimes.com/.