La Balustrade at Monument National is a venue I had not previously had the pleasure of seeing a show in. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a tiny room with a tiny stage. The capacity for the room is said to be 55 people and that I think is generous. It is so small a room that I was able to count the number of people in the audience before the show started (32). Now, all this to say, I am not complaining about the small confines, actually quite the opposite as the intimate surroundings really lent something to the play. It became an evening where you believed that the actress was a woman having a private conversation with you. Typical of Montreal no matter how small the venue they always find room for a bar, so there are refreshments there for purchase by the audience. When you enter La Balustrade your attention is immediately drawn to the front right corner where there is a piano and a very serious looking white-haired pianist (Ari Snyder) dressed in a tuxedo. I should have looked more carefully at this man in order to get a hint of what was to come in regards to the show because upon closer inspection I noticed he was wearing green and yellow knitted slippers. Not your typical tuxedo footwear.
On with the show, so to speak, "Bedraggled" is an essentially one-woman show starring Gabrielle Maes about a singer that once performed around the world and in higher end clubs in Montreal who now had drank herself into an sad existence living on the street. The tiny stage only has a wooden coat rack on it, but at the beginning of the show Miss Maes brings up a chair. This and a few costumes are all this versatile actress needs to tell a story complete with a cornucopia of characters. The show starts with the white-haired pianist getting up on stage belching and bowing. Maes as the unnamed former diva appears and right away you notice the shoddy clothing, the hair that's more like a rat's nest and the missing front teeth. She's slurring and obviously drunk. The woman is in a sorry state!
After berating the audience for judging her based on the way she looks, she launches into the tale of her deprived childhood. As humourous as it is (and the show is one of the more funny ones I have seen in years), you begin to realize how the woman ended up a drunk on the streets. Nothing comes easy for this woman. Each event in her life is amplified with the singing of a song that relates to the time described. I have to state that Maes does the best singing I have ever heard with the worse pair of false teeth in her mouth that I have seen. The production involves all types of music from opera to musicals to torch songs. Each one is sung beautifully and amplifies the emotions of the scene. Maes performs such songs as "A Spoonful of Sugar" from Mary Poppins, the extremely funny "The Last Cry of the Orangutan", "Kumbaya", "Alleluia" by Mozart, "You Go To My Head", and several arias from the opera "Carmen". Each song and scene involves a quick costume change and as such Maes transforms herself into a 9-year-old, a pirate, a crazy German-Hungarian voice teacher with gas, and Don Jose from "Carmen". The spectrum of characters in the 45-minute play is breathtaking and Maes performs them all believably. The tale goes on from her childhood to weave a story of a crazy life that understandably led to her ruin.
What makes the show so good is Gabrielle Maes as she is a wonderful singer, an accomplished comedienne and a good writer. She is able to tell a story that splits your sides from laughter and breaks your heart due to its realism. Maes is so versatile that she makes you believe that she is each of the many different zany characters she portrays. Sometimes with all the humour you almost forget her great voice…almost. The woman truly has a gift! What is done very well is how Maes has managed to create a play which makes you think about how we, as a society, label people based on how they look, how we marginalize them and create the outcasts of the world. Heavy stuff, but don't forget that you will have a very good time while coming to this realization. Please, don't miss this show as it continues only for 3 more performances February 22-24, 2007.