They call themselves babouchka, mamotchka, fille their homelands are Russia, France and musics unfathomable universes of feeling.They are three pianists, two exiles of sorts and one small miracle, and in Nancy Hustons novel Prodige (1999), they compose a complex portrait of the woman, expatriate and artist who is anglophone Canadas most famous francophone author.
While this Calgary native has been exploring through fiction and essays the multiple facets of her character for the 30 years she has lived in Paris, director Gabriel Garran brings the salient features of that picture into relief with a stage adaptation of Hustons novel at the Théâtre International de Langue Française. Taking a cue from the novel's subtitle Polyphonies, Garran has created a play for three voices, where Sophia, Lara and Maya sing Hustons tale of the triple choice to create, procreate and live abroad.
The prodigy of the novels title is Maya: born three months before term at just 720 grams, she is poised to become one of the worlds great pianists by the tender age of 10. But if the plays center of interest appears to be this charming wunderkind, especially as she is played by ebullient Delphine Rivière, its emotional core lies with her mother Lara (Josiane Stoléru). Self-conscious and introverted, this 40-something instructor at the Conservatoire realizes at Mayas birth that she still hasnt come to terms with her relationship to her own mother Sophia (Francine Bergé), a talented, headstrong pianist who chose to defect to France from her native Russia. Babouchkas death places Lara consequently in a doubly destabilizing position: both a motherless mother and an artist whose greatest work is her eminently more gifted daughter.
The themes of Prodigy will be familiar to readers of Hustons essays in Désirs et Réalités (1995) and the Journal de la Création (1990), where the author examines the dilemma facing women who desire to create both art and a family. Formed by the 70s sexual revolution in France and marked by Simone de Beauvoirs demand that women preserve their right to choose how and with whom they spend their lives, Huston long rebelled against the idea of having children. Her own career led her to rethink that position, however, and to realize, as she writes in the Journal, that motherhood can grant rather than sap creative energies. Putting the theory to work in her life, Huston proves it right, as the mother today of some 20 novels in French and English, numerous essays, several childrens books and two small children, created with the Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov.
But Prodige is the product of Hustons interior voyages in other ways as well. As Laras breakdown after Sophias death reveals, the author still carries scars left by the loss of her mother after her parents divorce and her move from Calgary (Alberta) to Boston with her father at the age of 15. Huston discusses in the essay Nord perdu (1999) how writing fiction allows her to resuscitate at will that most irreplaceable of affections: maternal love. In Prodige, that love is the thematic heart of the play, symbolized by the piano that Huston studied as a girl and that unites the three generations of women on stage.
As to her motherland which the author left in 1973 for France, first as part of Sarah Lawrence Universitys study abroad program and later researching under the semiologist Roland Barthes Huston remains firmly attached to Canada. True to form, the same woman who writes how she longs to burst out at stuffy Parisian literary cocktails with a rousing Yip-yip-yippee! from her cowgirl youth in Calgary appears in Prodige as the straight-talking Sophia, whose rich brocaded clothes reminiscent of the homeland emphasize her imaginative proximity to the country she left behind.
Maya, Lara, and Sophia: the many voices of Nancy Huston speak again in Prodige to underline an essential belief behind her work. As she writes in Nord perdu, fiction isnt separate from life it celebrates several lives: those that have made us and those we make in turn.
To Apr13, Tue-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 4pm, Théâtre International de Langue Française, Parc de la Villette, 19e, M° Porte de Pantin, 8E-18E, tel: 01 40 03 93 95