Quebec Studies

Structures of Impasse in Michel Tremblay's Albertine, En Cinq Temps

Quebec Studies (1986), 4, (1), 149–157.

Abstract

STRUCTURES OF IMPASSE IN MICHEL TREMBLAY'S ALBERTINE, EN CINQ TEMPS Elaine Hopkins Garrett In a book entitled Plays of Impasse: Contemporary Drama Set in Confining Institutions, a study of plays sct in prisons, mental institutions and the like, Carol Rosen offers a definition that could serve as an apt description of Michel Tremblay's dramatic works: "Contemporary plays of impasse tend to zero in on a claustrophobic, no-exit situation, and to explore with a camera's precision the nuances of everyday behavior by characters clinging to a hard life."l This is particularly true of the works dealing with the life in East Montreal, on the rue Fabre and on the Main. The entire "Cycle des Belles-Socurs" is composed of plays of impasse reflecting the impossibility of escape from this milieu and its institutions. What characterizes plays of impasse, according to Rosen, are Structures, dcfincd as "massive, de-energizing social model[sl"* that govern the sclf and punish any threat to their authority. In discussing a production of Kenneth Brown's The Brig (1965) by the Living Thcatrc, the play's director, Judith Maline, explained how she perccivcs Structurcs of impasse: The Immovablc Structurc is thc villain. Whcthcr that structure calls itsclf a prison or a school or a factory or a family or a govcrnmcnt or The World As It Is. That structure asks cach man what he can do for it, not what it can d o for him, and for those who do not d o for it, there is thc pain of death or imprisonment, or social dcgradation, or thc loss of animal rights3 The Immovable Structurc functions in much the same way as do the gods or fate in classical tragedy. The characters struggle to alter or to escape the Structure, but failure is inevitable, and it is this inevitability that expresses tragic vision in plays of impasse. Tremblay's most recent play, Alberfine, en cinq temps (1984), is a microcosm of life in working-class Montreal, and Albertine is representative of the women who live there. She is

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Garrett, Elaine