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Michel Tremblay's 'Les Belles-soeurs' with a Yiddish twist

Michel Tremblay exploded on to the stage in 1968 with his highly acclaimed and controversial play Les Belles-soeurs. His brutally honest portrayal of the Montreal working class revolutionized Quebec theatre. Writing in a street dialect called joual, Tremblay's beautifully flawed characters resonated beyond borders and languages. His works have been translated and performed in more than 20 countries, making him one of Canada's most prolific writers.

Michel Tremblay's groundbreaking play is being remounted at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal. It's the familiar story of 15 women from a working class neighbourhood lamenting their dreary lives. But in this latest version Yiddish has replaced the language of joual. Tremblay, who isn't always open to his plays being translated, welcomes this latest production. Tremblay even collaborates with the actors, helping them translate the play's overtly Catholic concepts into Jewish themes.

The amateur ensemble production directed by Dora Wasserman is a critical success. Pat Donnely of the Montreal Gazette writes: "What matters here is that Les Belles-soeurs is a damned good play. And in Yiddish -- with a delightful smattering of French -- it works." 
Les Belles-soeurs has been translated into many languages including Scottish Brogue, Haitian Creole, Dutch, Lithuanian, Hindi, Flemish, Spanish and Japanese.
• Tremblay's plays have been particularly successful in Scotland. He has been dubbed "the greatest Scottish playwright Scotland never had." Seven of his plays have been translated into Scottish dialect in 11 years. Tremblay received an honorary degree from Stirling University in Scotland in 1992.

• Tremblay has also enjoyed success as a novelist, translator, screenwriter, lyricist and even as a librettist. Some of his novels include La Grosse Femme d'à côté est enceinte (1978), Le Cœur à découvert (1986) and Un Ange cornu avec des ailes de tôle (1994). He has also adapted and translated plays by Aristophanes, Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekhov and Edward Albee into French.

• Tremblay has written several screenplays including the Genie award-winning Françoise Durocher, Waitress. Tremblay has written song lyrics for Pauline Julien, Renée Claude and Monique Leyrac. He also wrote the opera Nelligan (1990). It is about Emile Nelligan, one of Canada's finest 19th century poets, who was sent to a mental hospital at age 19.

Les Belles-soeurs has been produced in many languages. The Scottish Brogue version is called The Guid Sisters (1991) and the Yiddish version is called Di Shvegerins (1992).
• Quebec's most widely produced playwright in English Canada has written countless plays and published over a dozen novels and three memoirs. (2003)
• Dora Wasserman, the founder of Yiddish Theatre, died in Dec. 2003. She was 84.
Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: May 29, 1992
Host: Judy Maddren, Bob Oxley
Reporter: Carol Off
Duration: 4:13

Last updated: March 8, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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