Sometimes the biggest problems start in the simplest of situations. The complicating factor in August, An Afternoon in the Country, is not the setting in which it takes place, but rather the intentions and motives of the characters delivering the story. August is set at the home of a family living in rural Quebec, with the story unfolding in real-time over a family dinner. This may sound like a gross oversimplification, but it exemplifies the monochromatic scheme of the plot versus the vibrant undertones of the conflict. The family that's the focus of August is filled with colourful characters, their interactions revealing the dynamic relationships that exist between them.
A brief introduction captures the crumbling relationship of Gabriel and his wife Louise, providing a context for the rest of the play. Most of the action following the introduction serves merely as buildup to the breaking point between the couple. Surrounding Gabriel and Louise is the immediate family of Louise--her parents Jeanne and Simon who own the family home and maple syrup business, ornery and hysterical grandmother Paulette, tantrum tossing teenage daughter Josee, slightly ditzy aunt Monique and her fiancee Andre Mathieu. Over the course of August, these characters participate in idle chitchat, and do ordinary, everyday things until a small argument occurs, leading to the downward spiral and eventual conclusion.
ATP's production of August, showing in the Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays, is faithful to the nature of the story and intentions of playwright Jean-Marc Dalpe. Each character plays their part fittingly, allowing the situation to thrive and blossom as the family disintegrates under pressure. Joyce Doolittle is hysterical as the matriarch of the family, Paulette, providing comic relief at just the right moments.
Danette MacKay also stands out in her role as aunt Monique, playing the black sheep of the family on the eve of her wedding to Mr. Mathieu. Her excellent timing lends itself to some of the more entertaining and engaging dialogue of the play. Though overacting beleaguers moments of the play, the actors generally recover quickly from such bouts.
Overall, ATP has a winner on its hands with August. It is intelligently written, well performed, and loses little in its transition from French to English. No matter how basic the story may seem, the colours behind the story keep August fresh and worth seeing.
August runs until Sat., Mar. 8.