The most breathtaking staging is not always enough to set the hearts of spectators on fire. Courville, the most recent show by Robert Lepage and Ex Machina, is one of the most convincing proofs of this.

Twenty times on the job hand in your work… For a long time, Robert Lepage has made this adage his own. This is particularly true for this very technically demanding piece since it features a flesh-and-blood human surrounded by puppets, in the style of the traditional Japanese art of bunraku.

In Courville, Lepage recounts the teenage wanderings of 16-year-old Simon in Quebec in the mid-1970s. Shaken by the recent death of his father, troubled by his friend Sophie’s love for him, but attracted by the physique of Greek god of the municipal swimming pool lifeguard, Simon goes through his days between doubt and pain.

The show presented as a world premiere at Le Diamant in September 2021 (which the author of these lines attended) landed on the stage of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in a renewed form. Firstly thanks to a major change of performer, since Robert Lepage gave way to Olivier Normand, an actor with a very physical performance.

Other notable modifications: a tightening of the narrative framework and a necessary polishing of the text, now interspersed with a few touches of this slightly trivial humor so dear to the playwright.

The complex choreography of the puppeteers has also been refined. The movements are more assured, less laborious. Result: the pace is more sustained and the risk of the public dropping out is lower.

The almost human-sized puppets (created by Jean-Guy and Céline White) are undoubtedly the big stars of this daring show. It took guts to choose this little-trodden path in today’s theater. However, Lepage has no shortage of guts. These creatures of wood and fabric bring an undeniable touch of poetry to the whole. They come to life under the expert hands of the manipulators. To the point that we end up forgetting that they are inanimate beings…

The sets by Ariane Sauvé, magnified by the mastery of Robert Lepage in the direction, also deserve to be applauded. From one change of stage to another, we go from the suburban basement to the municipal swimming pool, to the cemetery or to the secondary school. The superb projections by Félix Fradet-Faguy wrap everything up with great originality.

The fact remains that this story of a teenager on edge discovering his sexuality remains quite thin, even bordering on banality. And the few narrative pirouettes at the end of the show do not succeed in dispelling this feeling of déjà vu.

It is difficult to become passionate about this boy who must find his way within his dysfunctional family, while the torments of adolescence take hold of him. In short, the heart remains lukewarm, even if the eyes are dazzled by the technical and scenic prowess displayed here by Robert Lepage and company.

If Courville confirms the genius of Robert Lepage in directing, this show will not enter the pantheon of his greatest productions. The fact remains that we must salute his audacity and his constant desire to renew himself.