Louis Riel comes to life as 2D puppet in new Montreal play

A popular graphic novel about Louis Riel's life has been reinvented as a form-bending 2D stage play by a Montreal indie theatre company, RustWerk ReFinery.

Bilingual play based on celebrated 2003 graphic novel by Chester Brown to be performed at Théâtre La Chapelle

A popular graphic novel about the life of Métis leader Louis Riel has been reinvented as a form-bending 2D stage play by a Montreal indie theatre company. 

The show, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Stage Play, mixes black-and-white cut-outs with live acting and shadow imagery to tell the story of Riel's 19th-century rebellion. 

"The simplicity of the comic-style images helps make the story accessible," said RustWerk ReFinery's puppeteer, playwright and co-director Zach Fraser.

Fraser's play is based on the text and images of Chester Brown's acclaimed 2003 graphic novel, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. (Drawn & Quarterly)

"It's a contradiction in a way, because the images are naive but still expressive,"  Fraser added.

"The comic strip is in black and white, the images are simple, the dialogue is simple. And I liked taking a complicated, controversial personality and revisiting the story in this way."

Fraser's play is based on the text and images of Chester Brown's acclaimed 2003 graphic novel, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. As in Brown's book, the play's dialogue moves from French to English depending on the context.

A new kind of staging

Initially, Fraser said the actors he worked with thought he was crazy to use two-dimensional puppets rather than three-dimensional ones as he has done in previous performances.

He adds that evoking full, multifaceted historical characters using naive drawings was a challenge he enjoyed.

"When you read any story, it's on the page — it's not three dimensional yet, it's not alive until we bring it to life," he said.

"With any puppet, any object, we invest something in it to give it life. It was more difficult in 2D than 3D, but I hope the audience will forget that it's 2D and just get into the story."

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Stage Play from Feb. 25 to March 5 at Montreal's La Chapelle Theatre (3700 rue Saint-Dominique). Tickets $25.50-$37.50.