Quebec play about a man and his penis fined $500 over fake cigarette

A Quebec theatre is fighting for its "freedom of creation" after getting fined $500 because an actor smoked a fake cigarette while having an argument with a woman in a giant penis suit.

'The penis is OK, killing people is OK, all kind of things is OK — but smoking sage cigarettes is not OK'

Mary-Lee Picknell, left, and Marc-André Thibault star in Conversations avec mon pénis. (CathLanglois Photographe)
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A Quebec theatre is fighting for its "freedom of creation" after getting fined $500 because an actor smoked a fake cigarette while having an argument with a woman in a giant penis suit.

During a Dec. 3 performance of Conversations avec mon pénis at the Premier Acte theatre in Quebec City, two health inspectors showed up and issued the fine for smoking in a public place after actor Marc-André Thibault lit up on stage.

Marc Gourdeau, the theatre's artistic director, says he will likely contest the fine, arguing that you can't violate provincial anti-toboacco rules when there's no actual tobacco involved.

The prop cigarette, he said, was filled with sage.

"It's an herb," Gourdeau told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's quite inoffensive."

A play about 'the male condition'

The province disagrees. According to Quebec's Tobacco Control Act, "any product that does not contain tobacco and is intended to be smoked is considered to be tobacco."

"Smoking a sage cigarette in a theatre that is open to the public is effectively outlawed and punishable by a fine," a Quebec health ministry spokesperson told As It Happens in an email.

"Inspectors of the [ministry] enforce the law as voted by the elected officials."

Marc-André Thibault, left, and Mary-Lee Picknell star in Conversations avec mon pénis. (CathLanglois Photographe)

The costly moment in the play happens when the protagonist becomes stressed during a heated argument with his own genitalia, played by Mary-Lee Picknell.

"The idea of the play is to talk about some part of the male condition, the conflicts between impulsion and what you have in your head, the way you feel about sex when you're a teenager or when you get to 60 years old," Gourdeau said.

"It's a very good play, by the way."

'Freedom of creation'

Whether Premier Acte will succeed in fighting the fine depends on how the law is interpreted, he said.

If it's meant to protect people in public spaces from noxious substances, then he says Premier Acte is innocent.

"If the other idea is that we don't want to show people smoking for a social matter ... we say that the object of art is not to help government improve that kind of compartment," he said. "It's the freedom of creation."

He noted the theatre has presented other plays with simulated violence, hard drug use and even murder — all without running into any trouble with the law. 

Even the bulging, vein-covered phallus in Conversations With My Penis posed no problems.

"So we see people shooting heroin and ... all kinds of drugs and that's OK? But faking smoking, that's not correct? I have a problem with that," Gourdeau said.

"The penis is OK, killing people is OK, all kind of things is OK — but smoking sage cigarettes is not OK."

But then again, the penis doesn't smoke.

"She drinks coffee," he said. 

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