The Playwright’s Autre Scène in Michel Tremblay’s Le vrai monde?
When Freud first turns to the play Oedipus Rex in The Interpretation of Dreams. it is not immediately to define the Oedipus complex, but to invite us to consider the functions of both theater and clinical practice: “The action of the play consists in [. ] the process of revealing, with cunning delays and ever-mounting excitement-a process that can be likened to the work of psychoanalysis-that Oedipus himself is the murderer of Laïus [. ] 1 What is revealed, then, in the play and in the analytic cure, is a type of self-knowledge that was formerly inaccessible.
In her book Theaters of the Mind: Illusion and Truth on the Psychoanalytic Stage. contemporary psychoanalyst Joyce McDougall places the theatrical metaphor at the center of her reflection about clinical psychoanalysis. She writes:
Each of us harbors in our inner universe a number of “characters,” parts of ourselves that frequently operate in complete contradiction to one another, causing conflict and mental pain to our conscious selves. For we are relatively unacquainted with these hidden players and their roles. Whether we will it or not, our inner characters are constantly seeking a stage on which to play out their tragedies and comedies. Although we rarely assume responsibility for our secret theater productions, the producer is seated in our own minds. Moreover, it is this inner world with its repeating repertory that determines most of what happens to us in the external world. 2
What happens when these “secret theater productions” become actual theater? When the autre scène manifests itself on the theatrical stage? When a playwright’s creation is his acting out, and his writing becomes precisely a way of avoiding self-knowledge?
If the unconscious has sometimes been dubbed l’autre scène. this [End Page 67] theatrical metaphor is perhaps nowhere more appropriate than in Michel Tremblay’s play Le vrai monde?. Tremblay is a renowned Québécois playwright who exploded onto the stage in Montreal in 1968 with his play Les belles-soeurs. Over the past four decades, he has written both novels and plays, and he continually experiments with formal and structural elements in his theater. In this play, Michel Tremblay the playwright creates the character of Claude the aspiring writer, whose first manuscript is a play about the relationships in his own family. As Tremblay’s play unfolds, so does Claude’s, and the simultaneous theatrical representation of the two plays allows the audience to question the motives of the budding young playwright as a character on Tremblay’s larger scène. This mise en abyme structure juxtaposes Tremblay’s play with his fictional playwright’s, creating a complex interplay between the two scenes that encourages both readers and spectators to reflect on the psychic function of artistic endeavor.
A quick summary of the plot of Claude’s play will be helpful here: Alex II, Claude’s “father” and a traveling salesman, comes home from a road trip to find his wife Madeleine II completely changed towards him. She confronts him for his womanizing, telling him that she knows he has fathered at least one illegitimate child and that she wants a divorce.
She will no longer put up with the farce of their marriage. Claude’s “sister” Mariette II, a go-go dancer, comes home to find her father brooding after his conversation with Madeleine II. She proceeds to tell him that she does not want him to come see her dance anymore with his salesmen friends because she finds it perverse to dance in front of her father, whose eyes on her resemble those of his friends. She also hints at a past incident where, drunk, he forgot his familial relationship to her and nearly raped her, but was interrupted by Claude who came in and saved her. Alex II is outraged. Madeleine II also brings up this incident as the one time in her life where Alex II struck her in anger, and the moment that changed her feelings for him (and her life) forever. She then tells him to get out, and the last scene of.
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