An odd play is Bliss. The big themes – I’ve referred to them above - seem an unlikely mix. Throw in the fact that it all begins in a Wal-Mart store, no less, with the voice of an oracle directing its employees through an ecstatic description of one of Celine’s “last” performances and you know we are not in Kansas. Instead we seem to be in a clinical setting, tiled with a white bed occupying centre stage. Turns out that on that bed is staged both Celine’s miscarriage and later, much darker deeds based on the true story of Isabelle Cote, a young woman who has been chained to her bed for decades by her abusive family.
The story, and it’s quite powerful, segues gently from one big theme to another. So that while we start off in a Wal-Mart, we are soon next in bed with Celine and Renee, just as she is about to have a very bloody miscarriage. This scene melts, one hardly notices these transitions, into the very nasty Cote family household with Isabelle, not surprisingly, doing not very well at all, albeit surrounded by photos of - yes – that Celine woman. Segue next to the hospital where a deathly ill Isabel has been taken, then to the courtroom, then back to Wal-Mart. Attention shoppers, it’s a wild ride indeed, and all in the space of eighty minutes.
The production values are all top notch – great set, sound and lighting and the four person cast, Trent Pardy, Jean-Robert Bourdage, France Rolland and Delphine Bienvenue are pretty flawless. But the show isn’t without its struggles. First the device of the cast assuming the roles of both narrators and characters, switching roles rapidly throughout, hinders empathy with any of the central characters; you just don’t feel you know them. Secondly, as you might have guessed, this examination of celebrity is all a bit grim. And thirdly, one is left wondering just how well this play translates from its Quebec origins. There are no apparent language issues, but rather English-Canada audiences may be hindered by a lack of total grounding in both the Celine and Cote legends which grounding I was left thinking may just be central to an appreciation of this play.
All in all, it’s a difficult show to like, at least for me, but not it seems an impossible one. The opening night audience certainly seemed to like it, while I was left divided. It certainly kept me engaged, less from an emotional point of view but rather one of curiosity, not only about the stories that were unfolding, but where the show would go next. For that alone, it's worth seeing.
Bliss runs until -April 8, 2012 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto
Website/tickets here. Info: Please call 416 975-8555