The Madonna Painter a challenge for small cast

Religion, sexuality, death and secrets all collide in the small parish of Lac St-Jean, Quebec when The Madonna Painter or the Birth of a Painting by Governor General Award winning playwright Michel Marc Bouchard unravels its tantalizing tale. Playing Mar. 20-24 at 8 p.m. nightly in the University Theatre, The Madonna Painter beautifully caps off a captivating Mainstage season.

"It is a collision of ecstasies, a bouquet of lies disguised as a fable," wrote Bouchard. "The Madonna Painter or The Birth of a Painting is writ in scarlet pigments, in holy wine and haemoglobin, all the shades of red that flow though us, from our sex to our souls."

Conveying the poetic essence of the script and capturing its poignant imagery is the challenge confronting MFA candidate and director, Sean Guist.

Madonna Painter
The Madonna Painter plays nightly at 8 p.m. in the University Theatre.

"The play takes place in 1918 in rural Quebec, and I did a lot of historical research, which included a trip to Quebec, to understand the period and its religious influences," Guist says. "The play is loosely based on events that happened in Bouchard's home town when he was young, and he wrote the play many years later while living in Florence, Italy. When he returned to Canada, after the play received critical acclaim abroad, he rewrote and translated the play a couple of times. The translation by Linda Gaboriau is the version we are using."

The story begins as World War I is ending and the Spanish flu is taking hold. A young priest, having recently arrived in the small parish, commissions a wandering Italian painter to create a fresco dedicated to the Virgin Mary to ward off the oncoming plague. As he chooses his model between four local virgins – all named Mary – the Madonna painter changes the fate of the entire community.

"Our cast is small, only seven characters," Guist explains. "Every character in the play has their own journey and their own beauty to discover. In turn, each actor has to go on that journey too; to discover their own beauty."

"The audience will experience great contemporary Canadian theatre that comes to life on a stunning set designed by faculty member and alumnus Roger Schultz (BFA '89), with costumes designed by Leslie Robison-Greene. Bouchard said he wanted the audience to leave with one element from the play: an image, a character, a line or a moment. I know this play both provokes and entertains – it's very beautiful, like a great work of art," says Guist.

Tickets for The Madonna Painter are available at the University Box Office, Monday through Friday, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. or by calling 403-329-2616. Tickets are $15 regular, $10 for seniors and students.

This story first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.