Can the world premiere of a sequel, a quarter of a century later, have the same impact as the original? Perhaps not, but “Condoville,” David Fennario’s return to the place and people that made his “Balconville” a major event on international stages in 1979, comes close. The characters are just as colorful and Fennario is just as skilled in creating real people and combining the universal with the particular in each character. The dialogue is as punchy and fluid. The connections and humor are as vital. The energy level is terrific.
Certainly, after 25 years, the aging group in the working-class Point St. Charles neighborhood of Montreal is driven by a different dynamic. In “Balconville,” they overcame French/English, separatist/federalist tensions to pull together for co-op housing. In “Condoville,” enthusiasm for these linguistic and political issues fades as the radicalism of youth subsides in the face of the realities of surviving the daily grind.
The new issue affecting them all is the increasing trendiness of the neighborhood. Property values are rising and the fourplex co-op is likely to be turned into a condominium development — too rich for most of the original inhabitants, who in society’s eyes, are losers existing on handouts and drowning as social services and subsidies shrink. After years of sniping at each other, only working together can give them even a faint chance of beating being displaced by the apparently inevitable gentrification of their neighborhood.
The absence of two of the original characters, one dying, the other having joined the enemy as a city councilor, points to the ravages of time from a different angle. Similarly, a gay, yuppie, mixed-race couple and the street-kid granddaughter of two of the residents demonstrate the kaleidoscope of societal change.
In the highly effective ensemble brought together by director Gordon McCall, two of the cast repeat the characters they played in “Balconville”: Yolande Circe supplies a delightful characterization of the motherly, francophone housewife Cecile; and Jean Archambault’s simple-minded handyman Thibault is an amusing narrator.
While the rest may not have been onstage for the premiere of “Balconville,” their characterizations are just as authentic. Patricia Yeatman is a convincing leader in the fight for solidarity. Kent Allen as her busking/cigarette-smuggling partner and Michel Perron as Cecile’s grumbling, separatist husband balance macho attitudes with tender touches.
Altogether, the people, the place, the production and the issues are the stuff of top-flight entertainment. Simply put, returning to Point St. Charles via “Condoville” is a must.