Review: The 3 Exiles of Christian E. (A co-production of Theatre Sortie de Secours and Theatre de L’Eascaouette)

Captivating one-man show inspires Toronto audiences at the Théâtre Français de Toronto

Given my kids have a combined 27 years of French Immersion, it’s amazing The 3 Exiles of Christian E. was my first visit to Théâtre Français de Toronto. But it won’t be my last.

Christian Essiambre’s one-man show was captivating and thought-provoking, with a bonus. Although my years in a French classroom are long ago, I had absolutely no problem understanding the play because the theatre offers performances with English surtitles during the runs of their shows.

The 3 Exiles of Christian E. tells the tale of one Christian E., born into a large family in a small, Acadian village in New Brunswick. We first meet Christian in Montreal, where he’s trying to make it as an actor.

The reality? One single audition for a commercial, and days spent watching bare calves pass by the window of his basement apartment.

Ring, ring – meet mom. Through that first cellphone conversation, this incredibly versatile actor launches into a series of dialogues and monologues playing no less than 20 characters. There’s the girlfriend, the doctor, the gamers, and the many cousins born of cousins all trying to understand how their lives have played out despite and in spite of one another.

Did I understand every little bit? Heck no. Even my French-speaking, born-in-Toulouse companion found the opera-style surtitles helpful for understanding Quebec jargon. And she, like me, was new to the theme of Acadian exile, though we know exile personally from our own family histories.

The program points out that Les trois exils de Christian E “is inspired by [the main actor’s] life.” I salute Essiambre for reminding us that every life is uniquely special. And for delving into the sadness, madness and hilarity that life is.

The pace of this production, directed and co-authored by Philippe Soldevila, is wickedly fast, and not just because of the language barrier, or the many characters packed into 90 minutes.

Essiambre goes from Acadia to Montreal and back again. And with a single chair as a prop, flips and does acrobatics to convince us he’s anywhere but on stage.

After the performance the audience was invited to stay for a Q and A in French, no surtitles. I passed on that, but I’ll be back for more theatre.

Photo: Nicola-Frank Vachon


The 3 Exiles of Christian E. played at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley Street) until Dec 2, 2012.