The Real World?

A skewering family portrait of when art and life are tragically interchangeable

Written by Michel Tremblay
Directed by Richard Rose
Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco

Jane Spidell, Meg Tilly, Matthew Edison and Cliff Saunders. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

If a mother’s worst nightmare is having to bury her child, then a close second would have to be when that child, now all grown up, hands her the unflattering script he’s written based on his traumatic family experiences throughout the years. So you can imagine her reaction when he then says he plans to perform it—on stage, for an audience.

Twenty-five years after it first premiered at the Tarragon Theatre, the English translation of venerated Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay’s The Real World? is back at the theatre’s Mainspace. The powerhouse Canadian cast brings an intense, nuanced argument in favour of the adage that art imitates life—while speculating what happens when that art breaks free from the constraints of fact and tells our stories as we wish to have lived them.
It’s this very hyperbolic display of her buried past that Madeleine (Jane Spidell) is livid with her adult son Claude (Matthew Edison) for digging up and presenting in so blithely a contradictory light to what was—or is it rather what she too would have liked it to have been?

Against the backdrop of the same home in rural Quebec, two very similarly dysfunctional families exist: Claude’s, along with his deadbeat traveling salesman father Alex (Tony Nappo) and Go-go dancing daughter Mariette (Sophie Goulet) and their fictionalized doppelgangers—Meg Tilly’s Madeleine, Cliff Saunders’s Alex and Cara Gee’s Mariette—as Claude wrote them to life in his script.

Director Richard Rose beautifully and seamlessly transitions between the stark reality and amplified, rapturous fiction of one family so vividly haunted by the ghosts of their well-concealed pasts, even amongst themselves. While histories of domestic abuse, alcoholism and neglect—the categorical domain so thoughtfully rendered by great Canadian playwrights—play out in both spheres, Tremblay poses a valid argument for why truth is often infinitely stranger and darker than fiction.

The thing about writers—Claude attempts to teach his mother, who fails to understand his compulsion to retell their private story—is that they can only write what they know. Tremblay’s world, a neatly revealed whirlwind in a 90-minute production, bares the backlash of violation and contempt when those you know are left exposed for judgment. Or even worse, entertainment.

The Real World? runs until June 3 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

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