In 2006, the overpass over de la Concorde boulevard in Laval, Quebec, collapsed, killing five and injuring and bereaving many more. Similar to the bridge collapse in Minneapolis St-Paul, the Laval tragedy was a media story of approximately two days, an urgent but brief reminder that North America’s car-dependent infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating.
But maybe a whole lot more is at stake than the state of our roads and bridges. Maybe our democracy is at stake. That’s the argument made by Sexy béton, the latest production from Montreal’s documentary theatre company, Porte Parole. (Disclaimer: I worked for Porte Parole for seven months during Sexy béton’s first incarnation as a trilogy and I now sit on the board.)
Playwright Annabel Soutar grabbed the “Sexy” in the title from a column published in La Presse just after the overpass collapse. The columnist lamented that infrastructure was not “sexy” enough of an issue to command the attention of voters, hence, it was neglected. As for the “béton” – well, that’s what we call concrete here in la Belle Province.
Dig deep into the details of the Laval tragedy – and there are a lot of details – and a compelling narrative emerges. The story of the struggles of the survivors is moving but also often humourous. Take Louise Bédard (Maude-Laurendeau-Mondoux) and Paul Cousineau (Paul Stewart), a couple who were driving that fateful day with a live squirrel caged in their car. Why? Because squirrels had been attacking their yard and to fight back, they’d trapped one and were on their way to release it into the Bois Papineau. To borrow a cliché, you can’t make this stuff up. After the accident, a chronically-injured Bédard was fitted with a prosthesis in her back. In an X-ray, the prosthesis looks like a bridge.
Despite the families being at the centre of the story, Sexy béton is not the kind of weepy drama that we’re so used to seeing from Hollywood. Yes, you will want to weep. But as the play motors onward (pun intended) and as the blame for the Laval tragedy spreads outwards exponentially, indicting Big Government, Big Business, Big Unions, the Justice System, the Montreal-Laval Mafia, the Electorate—you might well find your tears hardening to anger. Maybe the Middle East isn’t the only place where a crooked regime needs to be turfed out and the democratic system 100% overhauled.
Sexy béton has a script that you can imagine one day being entered as evidence during a public inquiry into government misdemeanours. Or the script could just as well serve future historians who want to describe how it was in the early stages of the 21st century, a relatively prosperous part of North America was devolving into a government-corporate-mafia kleptocracy that was literally killing and maiming people… and still the People stayed off the streets, preferring to remain indoors to watch Canadian Idol.
I would be remiss to not say before ending that, last night, Pierre Collin gave the kind of performance that could convert a philistine into a life-long theatre addict. He brought empathy, subtlety and physical skill to each of his three roles, proving that documentary theatre has not only a brain but also a heart and soul.
Sexy béton plays February 10 to February 26 at the Salle Fred-Barry, Théâtre Denis Pelletier. It is 80% in French, 20% in English. Tickets: 514-253-8974.
Directed by André Perrier and Sophie Vajda. Stars: Pierre Collin, Brett Watson, Stéphane Blanchette, Maude Laurendeau-Mondoux, France Rolland, Paul Stewart, Alex Ivanovici.
From art to activism : One of the families bereaved by the Laval overpass collapse, the Goyettes, worked on a petition that can now be signed online at l’Assemblé Nationale, asking for Quebec’s law to be changed so that future victims of such accidents (heaven forbid there are any)can be compensated fairly; also, that the de la Concorde overpass become, in part, a commemorative site to honour those who died in 2006.