For the second year in a row the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ) commissioned an original stage production of an English book by a Quebec author.
Last year, for the inaugural event held at the Redpath Museum, Claire Holden Rothman wrote a short play based on her own 2009 novel, The Heart Specialist. This year, AELAQ asked Alexandria Haber to write and direct a play based on Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride, shortlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize.
Standing before a crowd at this year’s Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, author Nancy Richler introduced the play: “Being a writer you spend all of your time alone. And especially writing a novel you spend years alone writing. You hold it very close, and it’s very private. And then it goes out into the world. You think it’s yours but it becomes something very different and … it changes.” She paused and laughed. “And this brings it to a whole new level.” With that she joined the audience gathered to watch the first stage incarnation of The Imposter Bride.
When asked about the writing process, playwright Alexandria Haber explained, “The main challenge was trying to decide how to only use a portion of the novel and still leave an audience feeling like they had gotten a complete story.” In the end, she chose to focus on the mother-daughter relationship in the book. The play consisted of two actors, both of whom played several characters. With short hair and a burgundy-coloured dress, Stephanie Buxton convincingly portrayed the daughter Ruth, while Ellen David depicted the complexities of Ruth’s mother’s defining decision.
During the play, there were times when Richler laughed, and others when she held one hand close to her face as if nervous for her characters in their stage debut.
The play succeeded as a moving evocation of an especially complicated mother-daughter relationship in the years that follow World War II.
And if one woman’s comment during the question and answer period that followed the play is any indication of the audience’s reaction, then the play was certainly well received: “I have to tell you,” she said. “I decided to buy the book before the play, and now I cannot wait to get into it. [The play] was so good!”
Richler herself, rather put on the spot in the same question and answer period, was either pleased with the production or exceedingly gracious. “You know I’ve only ever heard these characters in my head and it was very moving for me to see them take life, so thank you,” she said to Haber and the two actors.
Finding new ways to promote English books coming out of Quebec is a challenge. But in this case Richler, alongside Haber, Buxton, and David made it look like all it takes is a good book and a small stage.