Part adventure story, part history lesson, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Stage Play plucks the Métis leader from the dusty pages of the history books and brings the drama to life in a vivid, energetic retelling of the celebrated graphic novel on which it is based. The bilingual production promises to be controversial, irreverent, poignant and pointed.
Riel led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and sought to preserve Métis rights and culture. The play, coming to Hudson from Sept. 6 to 10, preserves the distinctive look and feel of the source material through creative use of props and staging. Using cardboard props and puppetry, black-clad actors tell the story of how Riel founded Manitoba, led the Red River Rebellion, and was ultimately hanged for treason.
Riel is based on Chester Brown’s award-winning graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography. Published in 2003, it was featured on the Globe and Mail’s list of the 100 best books of the year, and Quill and Quire’s list of the five best Canadian non-fiction books of the year.
RustWerk ReFinery’s theatrical interpretation was adapted and directed by Montrealer Zach Fraser, and was nominated for seven Montreal English Theatre Awards (winning four) when it premiered last year at Théatre La Chapelle in Montreal.
Fraser said while the show was not developed specifically for children, like the graphic novel, the stage production is designed to be accessible to all audiences. It tells Riel’s story in an engaging and playful way, while still taking the subject seriously.
“We’re not trying to do a Canadian Heritage Moment,” he said. “We want people to be learning the history but not feeling like they’re getting a history lesson. We’re telling a really fascinating story that just happens to be true.”
Because much of the drama in the play results from language tensions between French and English characters, Fraser felt a bilingual treatment, with characters speaking in the languages native to them, was important to the story. For the performances in Hudson, Fraser said the majority of the play will be in English.
Although Fraser was immersed in Riel’s story during the creation of the play, the Métis rebel remains an enigma. “I don’t know who he was,” Fraser said. “I am intrigued about who he may have been. On one level he was just a guy fighting for the rights of a community, but the story was bigger than that as well. He became a symbolic figure, larger than life.”
The play is on at the Hudson Village Theatre, at 28 Wharf Rd., from Sept. 6 to 10. Tickets are $33 before taxes and service charges.
For more information, visit villagetheatre.ca.