You present characters performing in a sort of vivarium. Who are the protagonists of Malaise dans la civilisation, and what kind of environment are they part of?
Étienne Lepage: The premise of Malaise dans la civilisation is that you arrive at a venue to see a show that never happens in the end. Instead, four “tourists” show up and completely disregard the rules of theatre—what people do there, what happens there. They explore the space without knowing how to use it or respect it. They cause all kinds of disturbances, mistakes, and accidents. They know there’s an audience, but it’s as if they’re letting themselves be watched. They can be generous, but also very careless—whether with each other or with the site and the things surrounding them. Gradually, they reveal this place which at first seemed empty.
We start from a fairly credible, naturalistic point of view and move toward the farcical, the outlandish, the wildly insane. There’s something both touching and upsetting in the way they conduct themselves as a group. We’re observing a coarse, undesirable version of humanity. These are people that you love to loathe or hate to love.
Alix Dufresne: The word “reveal” is important. From a dramatic perspective, the revelation spreads from the stage to the wings, the house, the audience, and the outside of the theatre. The audience watches an absorption of the space by the characters. They eat it, destroy it, appropriate it, dirty it. They even attack the theatre, prompting you to wonder how the theatre will respond to the assault.
Our little monsters test the limits of both the audience’s and their own moral values. The action doesn’t take place in a totally normal adult world. Are they chickens in a henhouse? Teenagers in a park? Children in a classroom without supervision? It’s all of that, but never only that. The idea of the vivarium is to observe how these bodies respond in this space—their drives, their instincts, their relationships.
What is the importance of the philosophical dimension of Malaise dans la civilisation?
A.D.: In a very literal way, our characters are basic, primal, even primitive. If they’re hungry, they steal food from someone. If they’re tired, they lie down and sleep. On the other hand, this doesn’t stop them from having existential fears and philosophical reflections, which they naturally address in an awkward manner. But the fact that they’re asking themselves these questions makes them complex and vulnerable.
What I like about Étienne’s writing is that its allow the actors to be very physical when performing. For example, there’s a monologue about experiencing oneself during which the actor plays a game, experimenting with their own body to test the limits of bending, of jumping, of pain or pleasure. It’s philosophical but very playful.
É.L.: I want to draw on the concept of philosophy in my plays, but with a clumsy, comical aspect that leads to even more confusion. To show individuals who question themselves out loud, in a manner that’s philosophical but absurd. I find it touching to watch people thinking.
The goal is not to take everything they say literally, as if they are deep truths or the answer to the show. Instead, it’s a physical adventure. Our absolute truths are worth nothing. What has meaning is the emotion of thinking, what it makes us do.
This is your first artistic collaboration. What was the impulse behind this joining of your two artistic practices and universes?
É.L.: I wanted to link my vision with that of Alix to create something new, so we could move away from what we’ve done before. Not to reject it, but to open up, to give ourselves the permission and the freedom to go elsewhere. To not put pressure on ourselves to remain focused on political critiques or in-depth explorations of movement. That led to painstaking anti-theatrical work aimed at showcasing these awkward, absurd, frustrating specimens of humanity.
A.D.: The relationship to comedy is very important. We don’t define the show as a clownish farce, but that’s what was behind our initial desire to write for the stage together. The nature of a clown is to suffer misfortunes for the sake of the audience’s happiness. We’re always in the process of exploring how this disruptive laughter relates to other things. I believe the show we’ve created is both funny and surprising.