Memory distorts, exaggerates and creates a new reality. This is the opening caution from the narrator in Michel Tremblay’s autobiographical — or, given the warning, should that be semi-autobiographical? — play “Assorted Candies.” Based on his 2002 book “recits,” original French version “Bonbons Assortis” premiered at Theatre du Rideau Vert earlier this year. The Centaur production marks the English-language preem of this dramatization of tales from Tremblay’s childhood.
As a curious 6-year-old, he hid under the kitchen table listening to his mother, grandmother and aunt arguing and talking about their problems. For the poverty-stricken family, finding a suitable wedding gift for a neighborhood bride was a major issue. So, for his aunt, was catching the opening moments of a radio drama, or having a fairy rather than a star on top of the Christmas tree.
One of the big disappointments of young Michel’s childhood was discovering the Christmas fairy was none other than his aunt. Perhaps that’s why she’s portrayed with such manic intensity in the Centaur production.
This may be one way of demonstrating the disfiguring effect of the mirror of memory. But it does little for the potential charm of “Assorted Candies.” Being forced to listen to a high-pitched rant for several minutes destroys the ambience of what is surely intended to be a gentle recall of special family moments.
In the dual role of the adult narrator and the 6-year-old boy, Gordon McCall is remarkable in his childlike body language and voice and speedy transformation to a man looking back into the past. He keeps the tone light and the memory candies sweet.
But director Serge Denoncourt, while providing effective choreography for his cast, has so little control of Leni Parker in screaming harpy mode as the aunt that the candies quickly turn sour.
The music of the playwright’s words and memories fade in the face of this production’s strident tone.