Me and You

title-meandyou

Last Saturday afternoon I went to see Talia Hallmona and Pascal Brullemans’ play Me and You. It is about the sensitive issue of immigrant integration in Québec. Moi et l’Autre was originally written in French and won the Louise-LaHaye prize, an award that recognizes excellence in plays for a young audience. Here is the synopsis from the Talisman Theatre’s website:

A young actress recalls her childhood memories and her arrival in Quebec. As the story unfolds, she recounts her meeting with Julie Sirois, her best friend—a quebecoise who dies in an accident. Denying this reality, Talia will interrupt the story and change the course of her destiny by giving her role to Julie. But she soon discovers that sharing her life with others has risks, especially when it comes to uniting two cultures that everything dissociates. Autofiction where reality and freedom are scrambled, Me and You portrays a friendship that defies conventions and looks at the identity of the immigrant, posing the question : Do we acknowledge the Other for what he gives us, or for what he takes from us?

The structure of the play is interesting. Numbered cards are brought out to introduce each brief scene. The two girls meet in high school and become fast friends, but only after Talia (Mirian Katrib) has been taunted and ostracised by her classmates for being an immigrant. The horrors of high school are intensified. Talia is half Egyptian and half Greek/Italian.

The acting was impressive. Kathleen Stavert as Julie, the rock’n roll teenager from Laval was electric. Although it is a short play, time passes quickly (in both senses) and we learn what life is like for Talia — confusing to say the least. After high school, she decides to become an actress, perhaps in the hope that assuming scripted roles will provide her with an identity, however temporary. Before long she announces to her mother that she now wants to be a revolutionary, so to get that out of her system, her mother brings her to an Egyptian community meeting where she is rudely denigrated by a young man for not speaking Arabic and for being a slut. Her mother overhears the conversation and is angry that her daughter didn’t tell him to go to hell, so they quickly leave. Katrib does a fine job switching from mother to daughter.

At one point, we overhear her mother on the phone to Egypt. For me this was really where the play took off. Not only is it difficult for immigrants to create a place for themselves in Quebec society, but the problems they have escaped from remain very real for them when they have left loved ones behind and hear of the horrors taking place but can do nothing. Although I belong to a minority in Québec, as a middleclass anglophone, I am not subjected to this painful reality. Of course I can watch news reports on the CBC or Aljazeera, or watch various YouTube videos about the war torn middle-east, but I can always turn the TV or computer off and forget about it.

Nonetheless, it was a pleasant surprise to read a recent online article reporting that the Syrian refugees in Canada had organized a fund-raising campaign on Facebook. They wanted to help the people who had to flee from the ranging fires in Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, near the Canadian tar sands. The Syrians said they understood exactly what it was like to suddenly lose their homes and wanted to do something in return for the help they had received from the people of Canada.

The sense of reconciliation Me and You suggests also merits comment. When we learn that Julie has died in a car crash, Talia quickly denies that this has happened. From that point on Sylvie inhabits part of Talia’s psyche, an idea which I think is well illustrated in the advertising poster shown above. The original French title is somewhat different: it emphasizes the opposition between self and other, yet the play collapses that seemingly unbreechable distance. What is remarkable is that all these various parts end up contributing to the construction of an identity — one that is not necessarily coherent. Perhaps it would be helpful to add that coherence may not be necessary.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Me and You

  1. I am perplexed. As a French person, I have been used to the idea, different from that of the US and Canada, that our Republic was One (Une et Indivisible), which meant coherence (a major common denominator) and not juxtaposition of cultures and communautarism. But I understand that the French model is not anymore politically correct. It was viable, it might still be, but it shall not under too many pressures.
    There is then as in your title in French, “moi et l’autre”, not “me and you”. “Me and you” suggests as you underline it that there is a reconciliation and a dialogue plus the politically correct “vivre ensemble”, sharing as less as possible – a less common denominator.
    The French title (“Moi et l’Autre”) means that there may possibly be no dialogue at all. I am here and there is the other somewhere and possibly I don’t care. L’Autre in French and in French literature, culture, is the one who is different and against whom we ( le moi) coalesce.
    This is this last option that we live now in Europe – and in Northern America in great majority – at least in the USA. And this is dangerous.
    Last interpretation: what if “me” and “you” or “the other” are internalized in one person? Coherence is necessary here. But the ambiguity of the play seems to go til there.
    A very interesting play and a very thought provoking blog, as usual Elaine.

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  2. Thank you for your comments, Camille. My husband, who is a serious francophile, has informed me that Radio Canada (French CBC) had a very popular TV program in the late 60s called Moi et l’autre that featured two women who were supposedly friends, but the moi character kept referring to l’autre in a dismissive way. This short play draws on that cultural history only the narrative has changed since l’autre is no longer dismissed but incorporated in both coherent and incoherent ways; in other words, full coherence is no longer necessary.

    I forgot to mention that the play ends with Talia singing a song by Leonard Cohen, who is from Montreal, in Arabic! It was not necessary to understand the translated lyrics as the song is easily recognizable: Like a bird on a wire … I have tried in my way to be free.

    Like a bird on the wire,
    like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free.
    Like a worm on a hook,
    like a knight from some old fashioned book
    I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
    If I, if I have been unkind,
    I hope that you can just let it go by.
    If I, if I have been untrue
    I hope you know it was never to you.
    Like a baby, stillborn,
    like a beast with his horn
    I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
    But I swear by this song
    and by all that I have done wrong
    I will make it all up to thee.
    I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
    he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
    And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
    she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

    Oh like a bird on the wire,
    like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free.

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  3. I do enjoy reading comments as well as blogs and the two both are and aren’t necessarily coherent and perhaps that was the point of the play. I too was most struck by the translation of “moi et l’autre” to “me and you,” something that jumps out even to someone whose French is weak and rusty as a glaring reconfiguration. The seeming mistranslation does, however, make me think about the difference between “the other” and “you.” (And what “you;” tu or vous?) I think, on the surface, the other is an object; the you a person, a subject. But maybe the terms are not as disparate as we think. I found myself a little jarred as well by the either/or question at the end of the quote that seems to want to force a false choice: what if I want to acknowledge the Other both for what he/she gives AND takes OR for neither? Why does it have to be a transaction? And what if I want to acknowledge the other as you/thou?

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  4. You and me is not a literal translation of Moi et l’autre. The French title suggests a connection to the popular TV program from the late 60s, early 70s, so it doe not carry exactly the same significance in French as the English “Me and the other” would. That brings out the us vs them polarity, which the play seeks to move beyond; hence the idea of a complex, multicultural identity that is not fully coherent is enabled. I think a coherent identity would adhere to the assimilationist model, which has its own failings as it retains the idea of otherness and doesn’t tolerate difference.

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  5. Just a brief thought: the title reminded me of Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew and Sand’s novel about herself and Musset, titled Elle et Lui. In Diderot’s book the two voices or two identities use these terms of moi et lui. I wonder if the French title means to refer to this kind of intense debate where we find two kinds of selves, or two parts of the same self, or an intense gender faultine.

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  6. The French title and theme do refer to seeing oneself in the other as a way of bridging the you/me divide. It’s not about gender; it’s about immigration, recognizing oneself in the other. In terms of multiculturalism, there is an exchange that takes place, hence the blurring of separate, distinct identities.

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