By Caleigh Crow
Capricornucopia productions is a gift. Literally, a birthday gift. Or maybe it’s the party. Either way, the company was formed when a group of friends, all Capricorns, decided to forgo typical birthday celebrations by renting out the auditorium in Atwater library and inviting their friends to perform skits and scripts that the Capricorns wrote for the occasion. For the average birthday party, the most artistically fulfilling aspect is deciding what silly thing to write on the birthday cake; but Charles Roburn, playwright, assures me there’s more than enough silliness at the Capricornucopia shindigs, including this year’s St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival show, Le Petit Prince selon Machiavel.
The title says it all: the story follows the plot of Le Petit Prince, the famous children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, as if it were given Machiavelli’s The Prince treatment. As Charles describes it, “Le Petit Prince is about him going to different planets and meeting people who illustrate human foibles.” Charles grins, “This is very much the same, its just that he meets people who represent human foibles and then exploits them mercilessly in order to extend his iron fisted rule over all the planets,” he laughs, “It’s perfectly natural. It’s a wonderful story for children.”
Charles originally wrote the play in English, and produced it for the first time at the 2012 St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE festival, where it was nominated for four Frankie awards including Best English Script. He later worked with a francophone friend from the Quebec Writer’s Federation playwrighting workshop to produce an adaptation in French at the 2014 Fringe festival. This year, he started with a new translation of his very own – quite a challenge for someone who learned French in Vancouver, BC.
Translating the work was a collaborative effort that extended even into the rehearsal hall, with the Francophone actors giving helpful insights to Charles’ translation. “It’s very important to have them tell me if something doesn’t sound quite right. Even just making little adjustments. They want the characters to come across in a certain way, so there are certain phrasings, certain ways of speaking, maybe an accent that I don’t know the right way to go. That’s something that’s been very useful and educational for me,” he says. The book was originally written in French, another source of inspiration for Charles, and another way to subvert the story with his diabolical approach. Ever mindful of his audience, however, he made sure to adapt the language for modern Quebecois usage. “What I wanted to do was use the original language from Le Petit Prince, since it’s something everybody is going to recognize which makes it all the better when we take it and put a horrible twist on it,” Charles explains, “but in a number of cases, the actors tell me that in modern Quebecois French a given phrase sounds a little weird or dated, even if it’s in the original book. So, they suggest a way to say the line a little differently and we go ahead and put in that change.”
The show itself is lighthearted and slightly farcical, with a dark undertone. It subverts a beloved children’s tale with scheming manipulation, and the overall aesthetic is fittingly fantastical. “It’s a little more David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth,” he corrects himself, “or The Boy Who Fell to Earth, so the Little Prince is dressed in nerd chic and thick glasses and wears a leather jacket.” Charles laughs, “He has these funky shoes! Everybody has funky shoes.” You know you’ve got good design if everybody’s in funky shoes.
While Charles says you don’t have to have read either book to enjoy the show, owning a copy of either Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or The Prince by Machiavelli will save you two dollars off your ticket price. For this literary mashup, Charles wants to pay homage to the original authors. “I’ve tried to stay reasonably faithful,” he says, “but of course, I’m twisting it horribly, so I hope the audience won’t come after me for that!”
Le Petit Prince selon Machiavel runs from June 8th – 18th at the MainLine Theatre. For more information and for tickets please click here.