The story of a woman falling in love with a priest is a common trope. However, when staged by two mime-like actors in bilingual New Brunswick through a collaboration between an Acadian and a Fredericton English-language theatre company, the story shows multiple facets.
A Sunday Affair is the most recent offering by Theatre New Brunswick, a professional theatre company based in Fredericton in collaboration with le Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie (TPA), the province’s longest-running and most respected French-language theatre companies, based in Caraquet and founded in 1974.
The seemingly simple play, which features the female characters’ unrequited love and priest’s need for companionship, was co-written by Gabrielle Houle, Thomas Morgan Jones and Richard Lee. Theatre professor Houle and actor/producer Lee are both based in Ontario. Morgan Jones is the Artistic Director of TNB. Maurice Arsenault, who has been the director of TPA since 2005, translated the very brief dialogues in the play.
Actors Mathieu Chouinard and Miriam Fernandes are stellar in their roles that are exemplary of very demanding physical theatre. Two-time winner of the Eloize Gala Theatre Artist of the Year (2012, 2016) among other prizes, Chouinard embodies Father Tom, the frustrated holier-than-though small-town priest. Fernandes is Josephine, a patient but lonely and passionate woman. Originally from Toronto, Fernandes is an experienced actress who just graduated from a prestigious school of mime and theatrical clowning in France.
The actors easily lead the public through the emotional ups and downs of their 60-year connection in just over an hour. True to the needs of physical theatre, Chouinard overchews his food and Fernandes makes noise when she sleeps. The actors can only rely on their raw talent to tell the story since, like the playwrights’ dialogues, Kaitlin Hickey’s set design is minimal, with a few artistically strewn umbrellas as a background to echo the windy and rainy Sundays that rhythm the characters’ connection.
The minimalist dialogue also plays into the ease of translation of the play which features in its English-language version, brief sentences in French. Father Tom, like Chouinard, is evidently francophone. The comical critique of Catholicism in the play is also relevant to both Francophone and Anglophone cultures in New Brunswick where religious dogmatism is often scorned in favour of a more tolerant spiritual practice, much like the characters’ rapport.
Finally, reminiscent of early silent film, Jean-François Mallet’s repetitive piano score, so centrally present because of the absence of dialogue during most of the play, sets the cadence for the actors’ recurring mime-like actions. Mallet has taught Music at the Université de Moncton since 1998 and is a lauded composer for both theatre and film.
A Sunday Affair plays in English in Fredericton, in the newly named TNB Open Space Theatre on Whiting Rd, until Oct. 23rd. The French tour starts on Oct. 29th in Bathurst and runs in the entire province until Nov. 12th.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op and is an editorial board member.