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literature

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Tremblay, Michel (b. 1942)  

Montreal-born playwright and novelist Michel Tremblay draws on his own Catholic working-class background in his presentation of bar culture characters and their relatives. He is notably prolific and versatile, having produced librettos, screenplays, musicals, short stories, novels, and memoirs.

In his work, he weaves together high-brow and pop culture, otherworldly and mundane visions. He constantly thematizes the interplay of fantasy and realism, dreams and pragmatism.

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Most remarkable of Tremblay's realist devices is his use of joual, idiomatic French as spoken by working-class Québécois. The status-signifying power of joual in Québec is akin to that of black English in the United States.

Tremblay's gesture is more than truthfulness to his roots, for his attention to language and class is paired with a focus on gender and human relations: mothers and their complexes, the antics of divas of either gender, gay male couples involved in parenting. His fictional universe thrives on places deemed feminine, places of both nurture and spectacle.

Featuring an all-woman cast and employing joual throughout, the 1968 production of Les Belles-Soeurs (The Sisters-in-Law) launched a cycle of interlocking plays and novels. Ensnared in familial entanglements, sanctimonious and outrageous types from Montreal's east end struggle against themselves, each other, and the pasts of their parents.

Fantasy is intrinsic to Tremblay's work. In La Maison Suspendue (The Hanging House, 1991), multiple time-planes intersect in a single setting to depict the forces that shape the very different homosexualities displayed by Jean-Marc and his uncle Édouard. In each generation, contention over the uses of imagination recurs.

The bitter struggle between Albertine and her brother Édouard, the drag queen known as La Duchesse, is replayed in various guises and tones between Hosanna and Cuirette (Hosanna, 1974), Jean-Marc and Luc (Remember Me, 1984), Sandra and Manon (Damnée Manon, Sacrée Sandra [Darn Mandy, Holy Sandy], 1981).

The recurring question is whether it is better to cede to escapist dreams or to remain determined, if accommodating, pragmatists. Tremblay's heroes turn the either-or question toward a position where the real winners are those who shatter and rebuild dreams.

These winners are often his gayest creatures. Be it Hosanna's Halloween fiasco in posing as Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, Sandra's wild orgy of green lipstick and nail polish capped by posing as a swish Virgin Mary, or La Duchesse's intoxicated rap on life, the queens drop masks only to extend their repertoires in more masterly performances.

In the 1990s, Tremblay himself took on a new mask to tell old tales. In his autobiographical stories, the touchstones continue to be films (Les Vues animées [The Moving Pictures], 1990) and theater (Douze coups de théâtre [A Dozen Dramatic Twists], 1992) and the setting is still Montréal's east end, but the manner is more intimate.

In early 2003, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced that Tremblay will write Quebec's first television show to feature an on-going gay relationship, Le Coeur Découvert, a series Tremblay first proposed in 1989.

Perhaps because he was never out to his mother who died in 1963, Tremblay's constant return to particular locales evokes a persistent and pervasive mixture of suffering, homosexuality, and creativity. With such themes, his writing inflects gayness with multiple marginalities that are at once personal and universal.

François Lachance

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Pigeon, Elaine. "Michel Tremblay's Hosanna and the Queering of National Identity." Cross-Cultural Poetics 5 (1999): 23-40.

Robinson, Christopher. "Transvestism, Identity and Textuality inthe Work of Michel Tremblay." Romance Studies 32 (1998): 69-79.

Wallace, Robert. "Homo création: pour une poétique du théâtre gai." Jeu 54 (1990): 24-42.

_____. Producing Marginality: Theatre and Criticism in Canada. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Lachance, François  
    Entry Title: Tremblay, Michel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 28, 2003  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/tremblay_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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