Stage Door Review 2024

L’Amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie

Wednesday, February 28, 2024


written and directed by Guy Régis Jr.

NOUS Théâtre, Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront, Toronto

February 22-25, 2024

Quartet: “Sur la mer nous allés, sur la mer nous finir!”

Théâtre français de Toronto with Crow’s Theatre are currently presenting the NOUS Théâtre production of L’Amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie (Love Like a Buried Cathedral) by the Haitian author Guy Régis Jr. It is an unusual piece combining a concert, theatre and film, but it loses much of its potential power by keeping what little plot it has hidden until very near its conclusion.

When you enter the Fleck Theatre in the Queen’s Quay Terminal at Harbourfront, you see a projection on a large screen of the heaving surge of the ocean. This unending scene is accompanied by guitar improvisations by Haitian guitarist Amos Coulanges, the composer of the show’s music, seated stage right. Velica Panduru’s set is divided in two. In the foreground the stage floor is covered with white sand. In the background is a narrow raised platform with scrims in front and behind.

After the lights dim and then go up again, a short prologue takes place. We see the body of a young Black man (Dérilon Fils) lying on the sand. Three Black people enter and the young man rises and exits with them.

Following this the action is dived into four sections. In the first, the lighting shifts to illuminate the raised platform. There we see two people, an older White man (Frédéric Fachena) and a younger Black woman (Nathalie Vairac) seated on modern chairs in what we learn is their modern apartment. They are in the process of having a ferocious argument. The argument is decidedly one-sided with the woman shouting at the man that she hates him while the man repeats that he loves the woman. The dialogue between the two is divided into very short scenes separated by blackouts.

A long blackout accompanied by a sound cue resembling the rumble an earthquake announces a change of location. A vocal quartet enters – soprano Déborah-Ménélia Attal, bass-baritone Jean-Luc Faraux and mezzo-soprano Aurore Ugolin – the same people we saw in the prologue, with the young Black man we saw earlier as their fourth. The quartet, with the young man as tenor, sing a wide range of songs from folk ballads to Baroque hymns, in French and in Creole. Behind them on the scrim where the waves had previously been projected, we see film of children playing on a boat. The film changes to images of Black people sailing on boats, overloaded boats, people falling off boats and boats overturning. Near the end of this section a multi-ethnic 21-member choir join the quartet on stage and the young man comes forward and speaks of wanting to go to Canada.

After another long blackout accompanied by the earthquake sound, we move back to the apartment of the middle-aged couple. The woman is now in a more conciliatory mood. She says she can tolerate the man and tells him that she hates to hate him. We finally are given more specifics about the couple. He is Carlo and she is Marianne. They live in Montreal. Marianne’s son arranged for Marianne to marry Carlo after he saw an ad online. The son encouraged Marianne to leave their country (understood as Haiti) for a better life elsewhere. After her marriage she was to sponsor him, but the government would not accept the application. The reason why she was so upset in the first scene was that she had not heard from her son in two months. Unfortunately, Carlo has information that sets Marianne off in a rage again.

After yet another long blackout accompanied by the earthquake sound, we move back to the sandy area in front of the apartment set. The quartet and the choir sing again but soon Marianne joins the groups. She launches into a remarkable lament for her lost son that is spoken as rapidly as possible all on one note until the end when she concludes by screaming her last words.

My main difficulty with Régis’s play is that I had no idea until I read the programme that the son Marianne speaks of appears in the action. I knew that Dérilon Fils must be an actor not a singer since his acting is strong but his singing is not up to the operatic standard of the other three quartet members. But it never occurred to me during the show that he was meant to represent Marianne’s son, whom we are told quite late is 33 years old. Marianne is supposed to be much younger than Carlo, so I had imagined the son to be a young boy, not a grown man.

Régis’s “A Word from the Author” in the programme also reveals the plot more clearly than does the play: “The retired husband and the mother of the ‘Intrepid Son’ exchange harsh words. Because a great tragedy has entered their lush flat and devastated everything in its path…. Because the Intrepid Son died on the crossing that brought him to them”. In the programme for the world premiere production in Limoges in 2022, Régis speaks of “Le Retraité Mari”, “La Mère du Fils intrépide” and “le Fils Intrépide”, written in capitals to highlight the importance of their relationship.

Needless to say, it should not be necessary to read the programme in order to understand the play one is watching. The play itself should be contain all the information we need for its interpretation. Yet, only by reading the programme do we understand concerning the second section that the “entire sequence … sung on stage … represents the group of boat people accompanying The Son”. Even here Régis does not say that this group consists of boat people who, like the Son, have drowned. The undulating movements that the quartet make as they sing I mistook for a dance. I now realize, too late, they were meant to signal that the singers are underwater.

The acting of Frédéric Fachena as the beleaguered husband is flawless. His measured voice and demeanour combine anger, helplessness and pity as he is shocked by the demon the wife he loved has become. Nathalie Vairac, in contrast, shouts all her lines in the first section on the same relentless note which does not win, but rather repulses, sympathy, especially when Régis gives us no idea what the two are quarrelling about. In the third section Vairac shows that she can modulate her tone, but once her husband tells her his news, she returns to the annoying tone of the first section.

The long choral section between the two Montreal scenes is beautiful throughout. The interplay between Amos Coulanges’ gorgeous, sensitive playing and the quartet’s singing is a constant delight. The vigour of this music reflects the movement from hope to disaster of the filmed images that video designer Dimitri Petrovic has projected on the scrim behind the singers. The images consist of scenes shot by Régis himself and Fatoumata Bathily along with excerpts of the documentary Fuocoammare, par-delà Lampedusa (2016) by Gianfranco Rosi. The film concerns the dangers that migrants face in crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest European port. The images become increasingly disturbing, progressing from overcrowding boats, to people falling overboard to fire at sea (the title is Sicilian dialect for “fire at sea”).

This section is so moving in its contrast of the calm beauty of the music with the terrifying images we see that it obviates the need for the first and third spoken sections of the play and for the fourth section combining speech and music.

It is a great thing that the TfT and Crow’s have brought us a play by a Haitian writer in its original production. As a director Régis has clearly absorbed the visually impressive Central European theatrical style of cool formality that contrasts with fiery content. The play we see is the second part of a trilogy by Régis called La Trilogie des dépeuplés (“The Trilogy of the Depopulated”). Régis is daring in mixing such different genres as theatre and concert, a mixture that might have worked better here if Régis had been willing to give the spoken sections more context. This production of L’Amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie makes me curious to see the other two parts of the trilogy and to see other works from the bold imagination of this politically engaged author.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Amos Coulanges (guitar), Déborah-Ménélia Attal, Dérilon Fils and Aurore Ugolin; Nathalie Vairac as Marianne and Frédéric Fachena as Carlo; Dérilon Fils as the Son and Jean-Luc Faraux© 2021 Christophe Pean.

For tickets visit: or