Quebec City, 1908. Two priests-to-be are ordered to deliver a letter to a controversial visitor to their city: the legendary French actress, Sarah Bernhardt.
As part of her long career, Bernhardt – known to her loyal fans as “The Divine” – visited Canada several times between 1880 and 1917, most often visiting Montreal, but once – just once – alighting in Quebec City. It is this singular historic visit, about which little is known, that Bouchard takes as the backdrop for his play, exploring conservative and progressive veins in competition through turn-of-the-century North America, with a focus on Quebec, that province on the verge of great change.
Michaud, the son of the province’s minister of finance, is a theatre lover. Talbot, on the other hand has arrived at the seminary on the very day of Bernhardt’s arrival in town, he comes from a family struggling with poverty and clearly has more pressing concerns. The two are ordered to deliver a letter from the Archbishop forbidding Bernhardt to appear on stage at any point during her one and only visit to Quebec City, on the grounds that she has decided to perform a play in which Adrienne Lecovreur “sings the praises of adulterous love” and “ridicules a man of the cloth portrayed as a plotting habitué of Parisian salons.”
And so the stage is set for a battle for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers through these two seminarians: the powerful Catholic Church on one side, and the power of the divine Sarah Bernhardt – and the world of the theatre – on the other.
The Divine was commissioned for the 2015 Shaw Festival in honour of George Bernard Shaw and everyone who loves the theatre, and in memory of Sarah Bernhardt, “the woman who dares to say everything that should be left unsaid.”
Cast of five women and eight men.
Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard emerged on the professional theatre scene in 1985. Since then he has written twenty-five plays and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including, in June 2012, the prestigious National Order of Quebec for his contribution to Quebec culture, and, in 2005, the Order of Canada. He has also received le Prix Littéraire du Journal de Montréal, Prix du Cercle des critiques de l’Outaouais, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the Dora Mavor Moore Award, and the Chalmers Award for Outstanding New Play. Translated into nine languages, Bouchard’s bold, visionary works have represented Canada at major festivals around the world.
Linda Gaboriau is an award-winning literary translator based in Montreal. Her translations of plays by Quebec’s most prominent playwrights have been published and produced across Canada and abroad. In her work as a literary manager and dramaturge, she has directed numerous translation residencies and international exchange projects. She was the founding director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Gaboriau has twice won the Governor General’s Award for Translation.
“It’s [Bouchard’s] best work, and the most exciting new Canadian play in years. … Sex embraced or coerced, religion used or abused, exploitation industrial and institutional, theatre celebrated and satirized and satirizing itself: it’s a heady mix, and I wondered halfway through if the ingredients could be kept in balance. It turns out that they can. This is a play with an all-conquering narrative drive and an abundance of twists; there are no unabsorbing moments.”
– National Post
“Michel Marc Bouchard's play quivered with sexual tension. A five-alarm blaze.”
– Gary Smith, The Hamilton Spectator
“a wonderful wrestling match between art, religion and business … a moving and entertaining yarn drawn from our own history … a play that is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath itself – and yet somehow keeps landing on its feet with only a few wobbles, quickly righted … The Divine is a rebuttal to its own criticisms about theatre – and [a solid] justification of the Shaw Festival’s own existence…”
– Globe and Mail
“Simply put The Divine is divine. … The writing alone makes the production worth watching. The Divine will certainly leave the audience with plenty to think about … The cast performs admirably in the Shaw production, delivering on the complex themes of the script.”
– Niagara This Week
“the most extraordinary play of the [2015 Shaw] festival … always compelling, and even intensely moving. Surely this play has a solid future.”
– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Bouchard takes a real event in history – the visit of legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt to Québec City in 1905 – and uses it to cast some dazzling new light on the themes that this gifted author has pursued with passion for all of his career: the destruction of innocence, the inequalities in his native province’s social and religious systems, and the healing capability of theatre in the face of these ills. … Bouchard writes with power, using broad strokes of language (muscularly translated by Linda Gaboriau) … Virtually every scene in the play makes its points well and leaves you thinking afterwards.”
– Toronto Star
“a fascinating, moving, ambitious piece of theatre”
– NOW Toronto
“Bouchard writes with scathing temper and his play is both touching and frightening.”
– Hamilton Spectator
“In some ways it is uniquely Canadian. But the power and passion … will resonate with audiences around the world because it speaks so directly to the most fundamental issue of our time – the corruption of and exploitation by the institutions we believed were created to protect and serve us. … profound and timely. … It will become a timeless Canadian classic.”
“a finely crafted work that soars beyond its seemingly divergent elements. … Ultimately, The Divine speaks to our time. … The Divine does what fine theatre should: provides humour as well as heart-wrenching moments, a gripping and believable story with engaging characters, provocative questions and the possibility of hope.”
– Canadian Jewish News
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