Franco-Americans in Contemporary Theatre
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Franco-Americans in Contemporary Theatre By Garrett Rollins
Theatre As a Space For this project, I observed theatre as a psychological space. Theatre is a multi-faceted art form. A play can exist as a social commentary of our society, an artist’s perception of society, or both simultaneously.
Franco-American Theatre Gregoire Chabot is a Franco-American playwright from Waterville, Maine. Chabot’s plays deal with generational division, “cultural schizophrenia”, the problems of preserving the past and rejecting anything modern.
Jacques Cartier Discovers America First Franco-American play by Chabot. Written in 1976 for an evening of Franco-American entertainment hosted by the National Materials Development Center for French and Portuguese. The play expressed the need for Franco’s of Gregoire’s generation to create a new identity.
Characters Barman (Joseph), a FrancoAmerican in his early fifties. Josephine, Joseph’s wife, also in her early fifties. Ti-Jean Cote, a mill worker in his mid thirties. Jacques Cartier, a Francophone phantasm. Leo, Josephine’s brother, in his late forties.
Plot It is the end of another work day in a small Franco-American neighborhood. Joseph the Barman and his wife Josephine gossip with mill worker Ti-Jean who has just finished his shift.
As the three of them gripe about work, family, and small town life, the ghost of Jacques Cartier enters, sent down from “up there”. Unconcerned that they’re talking with the spirit of a long deceased historical figure, the three strike up conversation with Jacques as he discovered that this ‘New France’ is not as he left it.
Cultural Schizophrenia: Ti-Jean tells Jacques that he is two different people. A French speaker who doesn’t speak ‘real French’ and an English speaker who ‘talks funny’.
Generational and Economic Division: Ti-Jean puts down Leo and Josephine’s Franco-American organizations, and explains there won’t be any Franco’s left anyways.
Preservation of the Past: Ti-Jean discusses the history of the Revolutionary War, and explains that French people in what is now Canada had to join English troupes against their own people who were allies of the Revolution. (Modern Francos seem to forget this.)
No Trump The play was first performed in 1981. The story focuses on an older generation of FrancoAmericans, most likely Gregoire’s parents’ generation.
Setting The play takes place in the kitchen and living room of a Franco-American home of the 80’s or 90’s. The action is set during the two days before Thanksgiving, and on the day itself.
Characters Gerard, middle-class, Franco-American, 64 years old. Juliette, Gerard’s wife, also 64 years old. Louis, Juliette and Gerard’s brother-in-law, 69 years old. Hilda, Juliette’s sister, 70 years old. The Television, hypnotic Anglophone presence.
Plot Gerard and Juliette are Franco-Americans of an older generation, exhausted even in their retirement, after a lifetime of hard work just to make ends meat. The story follows the couple as they prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, and find out one by one that their sons and their respective families will not be coming to dinner. Juliette’s sister, Hilda, and her husband Louis are the couple’s only company. Their weekly card nights provide little entertainment, although they do cater to Gerard’s drinking problem. With various outrageous outbursts from the Television further reminding them of their separation from the world outside, the absence of their children, and reminders of the past bring up painful memories and old wounds between the two of them.
A Hard Day’s Work: Both Juliette and Gerard give their own recollections of their working lives, regretting the necessity to work and spend such little time with their sons.
Religion: Gerard nearly drinks himself to a heart attack and begs God to tell him why he is constantly being punished. What did he do to deserve this?
Generational Division: Gerard believes that he and his sons will never have a real conversation because of the educational gap that separates them.
In Closing… “In the years to come—after we Franco-Americans forgive him—we will thank Greg Chabot for these plays—for his gift of love, faith, and courage.” -Jim Bishop, author of Mother Tongue