The Madonna Painter explores the darker side of religion

“The dark side of religion” is once again explored by gay Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, as Theatre UBC presents The Madonna Painter as the second production of its 2010/2011 season.

Craig HolzschuhBouchard, best known for his same-sex treatment of Romeo and Juliet in 1987 play Les Feluettes (Lilies) which was later adapted into a major motion picture, once again takes on the Catholic Church in what he himself describes as “collision of ecstasies, a bouquet of lies disguised as a fable.”

Set in 1918, the plot revolves around a handsome young Québécois priest determined to save his village from the Spanish flu epidemic brought home by soldiers returning from WWII.  To inspire the faith he believes will protect the town from the onset of the Spanish flu, he decides to commission a fresco for the church – a triptych on the subject of the ascension of the Virgin Mary. The Italian painter he chooses always selects a local woman as the model for the Virgin Mary, leading to a “contest” among four villagers for the coveted assignment.

For director Craig Holzschuh (pictured right), who comes into the production after it had already been chosen by the UBC Theatre Department, he sees three main reasons for choosing this Bouchard play: a strong commitment by Theatre UBC to new Canadian work, a cast of characters mirroring the student actors ages and finally, a play that he says offers up some wonderful challenges for the students.

But along with these reasons, Holzschuh also says he had no hesitation in tackling what for some might be a controversial piece.

“I think that if recent history has taught us anything, it is that there is a darker side of religion,” he explained.  “It is our duty as artists to examine the darker side of all things. Religion cannot be exempt from that examination.”

While the fact Bouchard is gay doesn’t come across in The Madonna Painter as much as it did in Lilies, Holzschuh did say Bouchard’s examination of sexuality and love are presen.  Having visited religious themes in Lilies, Holzschuh sees some similarities here as well.

“There is a lot of anger towards the Catholic establishment in both works,” he said. “The ideas of secrets and lies are really present in both plays as well. From a stylistic point of view, Bouchard’s unique style of poetry that is present in Lilies is also in The Madonna Painter.”

Despite his willingness to take on the potential controversies of Bouchard’s latest work, Holzschuh was not quite as willing to spell out what he hopes audiences walk away with after seeing The Madonna Painter.

“I always hesitate to answer this question and even more so with a play as rich as The Madonna Painter,” he said.  “Bouchard is such a gifted and intelligent playwright that there an immeasurable number of themes and ideas that an audience can come away with.  The very talented cast and crew have breathed great emotion into the work as well so I am sure that audience members will take a great deal away.”

The Madonna Painter
Telus Studio Theatre, Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBC
11 – 20 November 2010

The year is 1918. A handsome young priest arrives in a small Quebec town with news that soldiers returning from WWI are spreading the Spanish flu. To avert the epidemic he commissions an itinerant Italian artist to paint a triptych of the Madonna, a talisman which he is convinced will ward off the plague. The painter insists on using local girls as models, and four young women—all named Mary—vie for the honour. The artist requires a virgin, but does everything in his power to render his choice otherwise. The Madonna Painter is a dark and humorous fable, which plays on our notions about sex, secrets and sacred ecstasies. Tickets are available online or by calling 604.822.2678 or online.

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