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Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

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Review by Doug Gallant

In what had already been an extraordinary summer for the Charlottetown Festival, the producers of the Festival may well have saved the best for last.

The House of Martin Guerre, presented September 18 as a one-night-only staged concert, was absolutely brilliant, a powerful and emotionally stirring tale of love, loss, deception, betrayal and ultimately of sacrifice, played out over a jaw-droppingly magnificent score by Leslie Arden.

Without benefit of sets, costumes, or elaborate lighting, the audience was transported back to 16th century France to bear witness to an incredible story that all comes down to how much we are prepared to do to protect those we love.

Based on a true story, The House of Martin Guerre follows the journey of Bertrande, a peasant girl forced at age 11 to marry the abusive Martin Guerre, himself only 14. Guerre abandons Bertrande and their infant son after eight years. Some time later, a stranger claiming to be Martin Guerre returns, ravaged by war, regretful, transformed into a far better man than the one who left. Bertrande accepts her new, loving husband but her uncle Pierre and some others have doubts, doubts which are eventually confirmed by people who know who the new Martin Guerre really is. He is declared an imposter, jailed and sent to trial. Just when it appears he may be set free for lack of credible evidence the real Martin Guerre re-enters the picture and all is lost.

It’s an incredible story, one that fully engages the audience, pulling at your heart strings one moment and making your blood boil the next, when Bertrande’s family, in particular her greedy uncle Pierre pressures her to disavow him.

The festival is deep with talent this season and they utilized as much of that talent Tuesday night as they could crowd onto the stage. Under the skilled direction of Mary Francis Moore who made this happen in a remarkably short block of time, audiences saw wonderful work from people like Rebecca Poff as Bernarde de Rols and Shawna Van Omme as Catherine, as well as Katie Kerr and A.J. Bridel as Bertrande’s sisters, Marie and Jeanette.

But the most compelling performances came from three people who did not appear in any other on stage roles this season. Josée Boudreau, who returned to the festival solely for this performance, was absolutely stunning as Bertrande. Having not seen her work since Evangeline, I had forgotten just how good her voice is. She sent chills up my spine, all of them good.

Festival artistic director Adam Brazier stepped out of the shadows to deliver no less impressive a performance as Arnaud du Tilh, the man who took her husband’s name and captured her heart. Brazier has a tremendous voice, one we haven’t really heard since Evangeline, save for a spot in last year’s Christmas production. The duets pairing Boudreau and Brazier were magical. No other word for it.

Craig Fair, who has proven to be a gifted musical director and arranger, left the orchestra pit for a turn as Pierre and proved he still very much has the goods to work either side of the curtain.

The House of Martin Guerre, which has not been produced for over 20 years, is a major accomplishment. It truly warrants another full-scale production. If you did not see this show Tuesday night you missed an exceptional evening.

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