A new documentary on Quebec playwright David Fennario is premiering at the Montreal International Documentary festival, Recontres Internationales du documentaire de Montreal (RIDM), on November 15.
Filmmaker Martin Duckworth follows the development and mounting of Motherhouse, Fennario’s latest play at the Centaur theatre in Montreal. It is an uncompromising look at the life of working class women in the Montreal suburb of Verdun who toiled in munitions factories in WWI, while the men were away dying in the "war to end all wars."
A life-long socialist and revolutionary, Fennario intends this play and a companion play, Bolsheviki, to be a political intervention with an anti-war message. In this year of the centenary of WWI, Motherhouse exposes the real imperial and profit-driven nature of war and the particular impact that WWI had on the working class suburb of Verdun as a counterpoint to the sanitized glorification of that war.
These elements are captured in the film along with flashbacks to Fennario’s first play, Balconville, about the same mixed anglo/francophone working class of Verdun. This 1979 play was considered the first play to feature both anglophone and francophone working class characters.
He wrote Motherhouse during the fantastic 2012 Quebec student strike that brought down the Charest Liberals. He was attending "casseroles" protests in his working class Verdun neighborhood and writing his play about that same neighborhood one hundred years ago during WWI. The film accompanies Fennario on a journey through his neighborhood haunts, showing the remnants of war, Rememberance Day ceremonies, the old munitions factory-turned-condominium and the war memorial. He talks about the class divide, then and now, between the Westmount elite who champion war and the working class Verduners who fight and die in them.
Motherhouse as a political intervention
Fennario sees Motherhouse as a revival of the idea that theatre can be a political intervention designed to provoke thought or action and not just something to be consumed. He is inspired by Bertolt Brecht and his concept of non-illusionary "epic" theatre. Brecht was a socialist and his ideas about theatre were formed in a volatile historical period in Germany, when it was in the throws of a revolutionary upheaval, inspired by the Russian Revolution, that birthed a republic after WWI.
Fennario sees his method as a challenge to the trend in Canadian theatre making that character is about creating a full illusion. During the production of Motherhouse at the Centaur theatre, Fennario involved political comrades and friends from Verdun in the development of the script and rehearsal process. He also challenged the actors and director to step out of the usual mode of character creation to embrace an anti-illusionary approach.
A Marxist, anti-illusionary approach to theatre is a critical element for Fennario. He is adamant that theatre should engage the watchers and provoke discussion and action, especially as Canada once again heads into war.
Fennario—The Good Fight premieres November 15 in Montreal. For more information visit RIDM.