All ranges of laughter are exploited in black comedy Ulster American featured in La Licorne. But the words of author David Ireland, cultural identity and mansplaining (“Mexplication”), superbly worn by the trio of comedians formed by Lauren Hartley, David Boutin and Frédéric Blanchette, is serious.
When the playwright David Ireland, born in Northern Ireland, deals with a subject, everything goes. His vitriol leaves neither story nor character all in white or all in black. Gray is the favorite color of this author who has already declared on a daily basis The Guardian wanting to be a “socially irresponsible author”.
Rather judge. In Ulster American, the London director Leigh (Frédéric Blanchette, darting at will) invites the Oscar-winning American actor Jay (David Boutin, electric) to come and play in England the play by a promising author, British Ruth (a first leading role in the theater for Lauren Hartley), originally from Northern Ireland.
The text of the document deals with identity at first glance. Full of himself, Jay may call himself of “Irish Catholic” ancestry, but he turns out to be a functional ignorant who understands nothing of the complex situation in the United Kingdom. Londoner Leigh also displays strong prejudices against these “not really British” Irish Protestants who live in Ulster.
These two macho monuncles are condescending to Ruth, who, contrary to the simplistic understanding of men, is, in fact, a rather conservative and Brexit-friendly young author! Their meeting will turn into a war of the trenches where the scent of misogyny of the director and the actor will explode in public view.
Luxurious, the story also addresses questions of artistic creation, careerism, criticism, fame and all the clichés that these issues involve.
In addition, the intelligent staging of Maxime Denommée, helped by the excellent translation of François Archambault, underlines with many details – sidelong glances, gestures, nervous movements, etc. – a language teeming with misinterpretations, which brings to mind the divisions present in current affairs debates, when we talk about identity and, above all, systemic discrimination.
The meaning of words
Contrary to the popular formula claiming that “we can no longer say anything”, the play shows that absolutely everything and its opposite are expressed happily nowadays, but that the meaning of words has lost its importance, drowned in a noisy mess that plays into the hands of extremists of all stripes.
In this context, the actors swim to their heart’s content in misunderstandings, paradoxes and contradictions. The two or three-way exchanges become thunderous and confusion ends up triumphing. The words then act as revealing of the deep nature of each of the characters.
In this intense language cat and mouse game, in the presence of veterans David Boutin and Frédéric Blanchette, Lauren Hartley admirably holds her place. A real revelation in a first leading role in the theater suggesting that his smile at the end of the show wanted to be both that of his character and his on this day of his birthday.
From David Ireland. Translation by François Archambault. Directed by Maxime Denommée.
With David Boutin, Frédéric Blanchette and Lauren Hartley., À la Grande Licorne, until November 13