Even recognizing that few writers rival Michel Tremblay in the richness of his female characters and that “Marcel Pursued by the Hounds” offers one of his best in blowzy, boozy Therese, a barmaid with a secret and vengeance in her heart, this 1992 play in its English-language premiere at Tarragon Theater is not his finest work.
Tremblay’s canvas is East End Montreal, his characters the poverty-battered and dysfunctional, struggling always with the injustice and barrenness of their lives. And that means that Therese (Allegra Fulton) and Marcel (Nicholas Van Burek) are, by now, stock Tremblay characters, which allows for few surprises or new insights.
Marcel is Therese’s younger brother who hears voices in his head, and Tremblay has made those voices a coterie of guardian angels modeled after the Greek Fates. In fact, he has borrowed liberally from the Greeks, placing four women, who function alternately as chorus and as the Fates, at the back of the stage and having them move down to surround Marcel when he begins to hear them.
This is not a boring play, however, with its secrets and murder-mystery subtext. In one scene Therese outlines her revenge on her mother, only to have one of the Fates look into the future and report what really happens. And, in a hauntingly effective scene, the Fates interact with Marcel, while a puzzled and despairing Therese looks on to see her brother once again speaking to himself.
But Tremblay has always been a master of theatricality, and in this, his 11th play staged at the Tarragon over a period of 25 years, he competently plies his craft. No doubt someone who doesn’t know Tremblay’s earlier work wouldn’t care that he doesn’t break new ground, or that these plays are starting to feel like a TV serial.
Still, in his innate dramatic sense and his ability to create multidimensional characters, Tremblay outshines many of his peers, particularly in this strong production. Translator-director John Van Burek wrings out subtext at every turn, and Fulton, as Therese, turns in a heartrending performance.