Brigit Wilson wasn’t originally contracted to be in The Grand Theatre’s production of The Passion of Narcisee Mondoux, but when she found herself with the opportunity, she was more than happy to take it.
After all, the story, set in the fictional Québecois village of Saint-Esprit-en-Bas, offered Wilson the chance to work with, as she affectionately puts it, “the Beattie Boys.”
“I had done a show (The Odd Couple) with Rod in Montreal; he is so wonderful to share a stage with. I just adore Rod and wanted to work with him again and I had never worked with Doug,” Wilson said. “There was no time lapse between would you like to do this and the yes that came out of my mouth. There was no doubt in my mind I wanted to do it and I hadn’t even read the script. I am just glad the opportunity came up.”
The Passion of Narcisee Mondoux, which opens officially at the Grand on Friday (Jan. 24) and runs until Saturday, Feb. 8, tells the story of widower and retired plumber Narcisse Mondoux, played by Rod Beattie. Mondoux is determined to woo his long-time secret love, the recently widowed Laurencienne Robichaud, played by Wilson.
Just when Mondoux thinks he has learned the secret to her heart, he discovers that Laurencienne is a woman who intends to fulfill her ambitions all by herself.
The play is set in 1980, a time in history when women were making their marks in pursuits that had formerly belonged to men. In addition to the theme of love’s second chance, The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux explores women’s liberation, reminding the audience how different things are today, but also how much still remains to be done.
And that story is another reason Wilson said she is excited to be on the stage with Rod Beattie — who happens to be her only cast mate — telling this story.
“You can’t forget this time and move on. I don’t think we ever stop having to fight the fight,” Wilson said. “It may not just be about women trying to find equality and equal status. We are doing it for gay rights today. The battle keeps going on. I think what the play allows us to do is be an advocate for anyone who is being marginalized or undervalued.”
Doug Beattie, who is directing the play, said as part of his preparation, he read all four plays written in French by Gratien Gélinas — considered one of the founders of modern Canadian theatre and film — that were later translated into English.
The first three, Beattie said, are dramas about families. This story is a comedy and a love story about people who have known each other all their lives. All Gélinas’ plays set a personal story against a background of a particular social concern or issue of the day.
“He succeeds in creating fully rounded characters that are spokespeople for various points of view, but he does oppose them,” Beattie said. “It is opposing viewpoints about women’s liberation, but also what the correct roles for women and men are in society. It is about what those roles have been in the past and the difficulty in adjusting to change.”
Wilson said her character draws upon “really wonderful role models” such as Flora MacDonald, Jeanne Sauvé and Margaret Thatcher. And even though her character may not necessarily see herself on that scale, Wilson believes Laurencienne is clearly influenced by a time when women were taking on leadership roles around the world.
“I’m not so involved with politics and women’s liberation, but I can go back, I was in my late teens, that is when the mothers of my friends were doing what Laurencienne does,” Wilson said. “They were able to start their own company, enter the workforce, they no longer had to be the secretary or stay home and be a homemaker. It was a time of change.”
Beattie said a strength of the characters, and of their love story, is that Gélinas has written them as very appealing, which allows the audience to very quickly grow to care about them and how things turn out in the end. Particularly in the case of Narcisse, it is about the process he goes through to achieve his goal of winning Laurencienne’s approval.
Gélinas’ story was written in the mid-80s, but Beattie took it back just a bit to 1980, a time, “not so long ago.” It was, Beattie said, specifically a time when there were a great many firsts in terms of women in high office, politically powerful positions.
While that is certainly more commonplace today, Beattie said the play holds up even today.
“It is a good and important time to remember and certainly the play seems slightly quaint, I wouldn’t say dated, but slightly quaint,” Beattie said. “If the fight were over, if we had all made the adjustment, it might seem dated, but we haven’t yet. So the fight continues.”