If effort was the only thing that counted, Théâtre français de Toronto’s second round of “Les Zinspirés 3D”, which opened on October 24, would get an outstanding A+. “Les Zinspirés” is a project that gives five high school students a formal entry into the theatre world as they stories (rewritten by professionals) serving as the crux of the play. This year’s production was directed by Pierre Simpson, and featured writers Mary Anne Bakos (“Diable Blanc” — White Devil), Johann Sapim (“Les étoiles de Barcelone” — The Stars of Barcelona), Kim Letendre (“Zigzag”), Godelive Majamu (“Mes cheveux, ma couronne” — My Hair, My Crown), and Abtine Monavvari (“Poisson d’avril” — Pranskter Extraordinaire).
Unfortunately, actuality also counts in the grand scheme of things — sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on who’s looking at what — and “Les Zinspirés 3D” didn’t quite go as far as it could have. How much of the production’s worth take into account that it was mostly written by high school students, even if performed by professional actors? And how much focus should be placed on the fact that it was an opening night production at one of Toronto’s premier theatre houses?
It’s a little bit of both. For teenage students, the quintet did fairly well, using themes and language normally seen in high school halls. “Diable Blanc” was stretching things pretty far, though, telling the story of a Gr. 7 student who still played make believe and thought she was a superhero out to avenge criminals. There was potential to take it in a darker, more realistic vein of mental illness, although it’s not clear if it’s Bakos or the rewriter who opted not to go there.
The other stories were fairly entertaining, even if a little simplistic and very stereotypical. “Les étoiles de Barcelone”, which was about two girls who got into a spot of trouble on a vacation but unintentionally put a stop to an international drug ring, was one such story. It’s very believable that two girls on an overseas trip could end up in the pickle they were in, but you’d have to mightily suspend your belief to accept the rest. Likewise, there’s so much belt-tightening on school pranks that the lead in “Poisson d’avril” was more of a fictional high school archetype, something out of a teen soap opera, than a person you’d know in real life.
That leaves two stories: “Zigzag” and “Mes cheveux, ma couronne”. The former is about a teen kid who, sliding into depression over a seeming lack of future, paints acidic ink on his arm so he can feel actual pain. Again, there was so much potential to really explore the ramifications of such a case, but it too easily ended up sliding into what an adult would write in a pamphlet about cutting (not to mention the ending that was wrapped up far too tidily).
The latter story, on the other hand, was sassy, bold, introspective and relatable, with a young woman finding her identity by going to the roots of her hairstyle. A coif is such a superficial thing that writer Majamu recognized this and made absolutely no attempt to serious it up, but rather used the hair as a metaphor for her status as a person. Interestingly, Urban Dictionary defines Godelive as “a women or girl witch is wonderful, beautiful and fabulous and strong in every single way”, which is a wholly appropriate way of summing up the character. Plus, there was a kick ass Beyonce number thrown in for good measure, the likes of which rival that of any of the singer’s music videos.
The actors (Lise Cormier, Alexandre Côté, Djennie Laguerre, Alexis Soha, and Xavier Yuvens, all in various roles), the other critical element of this production, were fairly impressive and consistent throughout. In particular, Soha when she was the exasperated principal, was one of the strongest throughout. Her character may have been a bit one-dimensional, but she carried it off with poise and aplomb. Kudos should also be given to Cormier, who had little choice but to make the best of her character’s alter ego, Diablanc.
Was it some of the best theatre Toronto’s seen? Not by a long shot, but it should be attended with one big caveat: these five writers are much younger and more inexperienced than your usual playwrights, and did a pretty darn good job considering. They’re far from tapping into the deep truths that afflict humanity, but they’ve laid out a good foundation that can be improved on with more practice and living. The set design (Laura Gardner), though, which consisted of a large platformed ring with two doors flanking it on the floor, seemed like it was jumbled together at the last minute and painted with dollar store materials. There could have been many improvements in that regard.
But was it a sign that theatre’s still alive and kicking in Toronto? Most definitely, and a promising sign of what’s in store.
“Les Zinspirés 3D” runs through October 29 for the general public, and October 31 for school showings. For more information and tickets, visit Théâtre français de Toronto’s website.