Quebec City, 1908. Two priests-to-be are ordered to deliver a letter to a controversial visitor to their city: the legendary French actress, Sarah Bernhardt.
As part of her long career, Bernhardt – known to her loyal fans as “The Divine” – visited Canada several times between 1880 and 1917, most often visiting Montreal, but once – just once – alighting in Quebec City. It is this singular historic visit, about which little is known, that Bouchard takes as the backdrop for his play, exploring conservative and progressive veins in competition through turn-of-the-century North America, with a focus on Quebec, that province on the verge of great change.
Michaud, the son of the province’s minister of finance, is a theatre lover. Talbot, on the other hand has arrived at the seminary on the very day of Bernhardt’s arrival in town, he comes from a family struggling with poverty and clearly has more pressing concerns. The two are ordered to deliver a letter from the Archbishop forbidding Bernhardt to appear on stage at any point during her one and only visit to Quebec City, on the grounds that she has decided to perform a play in which Adrienne Lecovreur “sings the praises of adulterous love” and “ridicules a man of the cloth portrayed as a plotting habitué of Parisian salons.”
And so the stage is set for a battle for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers through these two seminarians: the powerful Catholic Church on one side, and the power of the divine Sarah Bernhardt – and the world of the theatre – on the other.
The Divine was commissioned for the 2015 Shaw Festival in honour of George Bernard Shaw and everyone who loves the theatre, and in memory of Sarah Bernhardt, “the woman who dares to say everything that should be left unsaid.”
Cast of five women and eight men.
About the authors
Michel Marc Bouchard
Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard has written 25 plays, and he is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including: le Prix Journal de Montréal, Prix du Cercle de critiques de l’Outaouais, the Governor General’s Award, the Dora Mavor Moore Award, and the Chalmers Award for Outstanding New Play. The Vancouver productions of Lilies (1993) and The Orphan Muses (1995) also garnered nine Jesse Richardson Theatre Awards. Bouchard is also the author of Written on Water, Down Dangerous Passes Road, The Coronation Voyage, which was performed in 2003 as the first Canadian-authored play at the Shaw Festival in 25 years, and The Tale of Teeka, all available in English from Talonbooks.
Linda Gaboriau is an award-winning literary translator based in Montreal. Her translations of plays by Quebec’s most prominent playwrights have been published and produced across Canada and abroad. In her work as a literary manager and dramaturge, she has directed numerous translation residencies and international exchange projects. She was the founding director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Most recently she won the 2010 Governor General’s Award for Forests, her translation of the play by Wajdi Mouawad.
Linda Gaboriau is a dramaturge and literary translator renowned for her translations of some 100 plays and novels by some of Quebec's most prominent writers, including many of the Quebec plays best known to English Canadian audiences. After studying French language and literature at McGill University, she freelanced as a journalist for the CBC and the Montreal Gazette. She has worked in Canadian and Québécois theatre and is founding director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, where she directed numerous translation residencies and international exchange projects. Her third translation of a Wajdi Mouawad play Forests in 2010 won her a second Governor General's Literary Award for translation. Originally from Boston, Linda Gaboriau has been based in Montreal since 1963. David Homel is a writer, journalist, filmmaker, and translator. He is the author of five previous novels, including The Speaking Cure, which won the J.I. Segal Award of the Jewish Public Library, and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Best Fiction from the Quebec Writer's Federation. He has also written two children's books, including Travels with my Family, which was co-authored with his wife, Canadian children's author Marie-Louise Gay. He has translated several French works, receiving two Governor General's Literary Awards for translation. Homel was born and raised in Chicago and currently resides in Montreal.Maureen Labonté is a dramaturge, translator and teacher. She has also coordinated a number of play-development programs in theatres and playwrights' centres across the country. In 2006, she was named head of program for the Banff playRites Colony at The Banff Centre. She was dramaturge at the Colony from 2003-2005. She was also literary manager in charge of play development at the Shaw Festival from 2002-2004. Previous to that, she worked at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTSC), first developing and running a pilot directing program and then coordinating the playwrighting program and playwrights' residency. She still teaches at NTSC. She has translated more than thirty Quebec plays into English. Recent translations include: The Bookshop by Marie-Josée Bastien, Everybody's WELLES pour tous by Patrice Dubois, Martin Labreque and The Tailor's Will by Michel Ouellette, Wigwam by Jean-Frédéric Messier and Bienvenue à (une ville dont vous êtes le touriste) by Olivier Choinière.
“In some ways it is uniquely Canadian. But the power and passion … will resonate with audiences around the world because it speaks so directly to the most fundamental issue of our time – the corruption of and exploitation by the institutions we believed were created to protect and serve us. … profound and timely. … It will become a timeless Canadian classic.”
“a wonderful wrestling match between art, religion and business … a moving and entertaining yarn drawn from our own history … a play that is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath itself – and yet somehow keeps landing on its feet with only a few wobbles, quickly righted … The Divine is a rebuttal to its own criticisms about theatre – and [a solid] justification of the Shaw Festival’s own existence…”
– Globe and Mail
“Bouchard takes a real event in history – the visit of legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt to Québec City in 1905 – and uses it to cast some dazzling new light on the themes that this gifted author has pursued with passion for all of his career: the destruction of innocence, the inequalities in his native province’s social and religious systems, and the healing capability of theatre in the face of these ills. … Bouchard writes with power, using broad strokes of language (muscularly translated by Linda Gaboriau) … Virtually every scene in the play makes its points well and leaves you thinking afterwards.”
– Toronto Star
“It’s [Bouchard’s] best work, and the most exciting new Canadian play in years. … Sex embraced or coerced, religion used or abused, exploitation industrial and institutional, theatre celebrated and satirized and satirizing itself: it’s a heady mix, and I wondered halfway through if the ingredients could be kept in balance. It turns out that they can. This is a play with an all-conquering narrative drive and an abundance of twists; there are no unabsorbing moments.”
– National Post
“Simply put The Divine is divine. … The writing alone makes the production worth watching. The Divine will certainly leave the audience with plenty to think about … The cast performs admirably in the Shaw production, delivering on the complex themes of the script.”
– Niagara This Week
“a finely crafted work that soars beyond its seemingly divergent elements. … Ultimately, The Divine speaks to our time. … The Divine does what fine theatre should: provides humour as well as heart-wrenching moments, a gripping and believable story with engaging characters, provocative questions and the possibility of hope.”
– Canadian Jewish News