Théâtre DesAssimilés steps away from the absurd with Antioche

Halifax French-language theatre company presents Sarah Berthiaume’s drama in French with English surtitles

Emerging director Franziska Glen takes the helm with Antioche as part of Théâtre DesAssimilés' Premier Acte project.
Emerging director Franziska Glen takes the helm with Antioche as part of Théâtre DesAssimilés' Premier Acte project.

The second production in Théâtre DesAssimilés’ (TDA) Premier Acte project and the third from the company overall, the Halifax French-language theatre company will present Quebec playwright Sarah Berthiaume’s Antioche at the Park Place Theatre later this month.

Antioche will mark the first play for TDA that is not within the absurdist genre. More coincidence than by design, the company’s inaugural production in 2018 was Eugène Ionesco’s Les Chaises (The Chairs) which was quickly followed by another absurdist piece.

"When I started Théâtre DesAssimilés back in 2018 I realized that it was pretty lonely as the only Francophone theatre company in Halifax. I wanted to push myself, but I also wanted to push my community to be better and to produce more art. I thought if I can give our emerging Francophone directors, and our emerging bilingual designers and actors this opportunity it might spark further production, further creation, within the Francophone community." - Théâtre DesAssimilés' artistic director Zac Comeau on the impetus for his company's Premier Acte project.
“I thought if I can give our emerging Francophone directors and emerging bilingual designers and actors the opportunity, it might spark further creation within the Francophone community.” – Théâtre DesAssimilés’ artistic director Zac Comeau on the impetus for his company’s Premier Acte project.

“We were working on our second show, which was going to be the non-absurdist play God of Carnage, but one of our actors got a concussion,” explains Comeau who put the play on hold and moved onto another show in its Premier Acte project, TDA’s professional cultivation program for emerging directors. By mere chance, the director chose Nova Scotia playwright Thibault Jacquot-Paratte’s absurdist drama Les mangeurs d’ail (The garlic eaters).

“So I’m thrilled and excited to share with the Halifax public a Francophone non-absurdist show, featuring a cast of three women, directed by a woman, and using fun and cool contemporary aspects, as well as some Greek mythology,” says Comeau.

With support from Comeau and his team at TDA, each play in Premier Acte is chosen by the director, who is also responsible for the casting and assembling the creative team. “Essentially we are giving these first-time directors the opportunity to get their first show under their belt,” he says.

For Antioche director Franziska Glen the opportunity to direct her own show has allowed her to reconnect with her French roots, having grown up on the Quebec border in Eastern Ontario with its large Franco-Ontarian community.

“Being a Francophile has always been important to me and has at times informed where I’ve wanted to live,” says Glen. “When I was moving to Halifax, I was a bit sad that there might be fewer French opportunities. So I was excited to be approached by Zac as it has opened up the local Francophone community to me, which is a cool mix of France ex-pats, Acadians, and West African French speakers.”

As a graduate of New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University with degrees in both theatre and French literature, directing Antioche is not only helping Glen to stay connected to her French heritage but also taking advantage of her education. “This is the first project that is marrying both of my degrees perfectly,” she says with a laugh.

Antioche has also allowed Glen to work on a female-forward and driven play. “The production, creative and acting team is almost entirely made up of women, which is exciting,” she says. “And in a time where there’s a lot of fear going around, whether because of an environmental crisis or health, there always seems to be these great pillars of female strength.”

Citing contemporary female role models like Malala Yousafza and Greta Thunberg, Glen finds a connection with one of Antioche‘s central characters. For while the play takes place in a contemporary setting in a story of a mother and daughter navigating their relationship with one another and the world in which they live, it also includes a third female character from Greek mythology.

“There’s a neat, magical element to the show in which the teen’s best friend is Antigone, a young woman who stands up against the city, against the laws, against the institutions,” she says. “I think this play does an excellent job of bringing that all together.”

Antioche plays Park Place Theatre (5480 Point Pleasant Dr, Halifax) on March 21 & 22. Presented in French with English surtitles. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets or visit theatredesassimile.wixsite.com for more information.