Penobscot Theater Company ‘The final offering of its fully virtual multimedia season offers an emotional boost in English and French.
“I Am Not Evangeline” or “I am not Evangeline” is essentially a filmed monologue. A woman in her 60s speaks directly to the camera as she packs her bags to retire. The film has subtitles in both languages.
She talks about her Acadian roots, what she learned from her Francophone grandmothers and how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” has, in a big and small way, affected his life. The woman’s name is Evangeline but has been passed by Eva since her college days.
Written and performed by Carolyn Cook, the one-hour play weaves the Grand Derangement (Le Grand Dérangement), when the Acadians were forcibly evicted from the United States and Canada, with the stories of today’s refugees and conflicts they fled.
In the film’s most powerful segments, Cook as Evangeline portrays his grandmothers, both strong women who raised large families in Maine. One tells the child Evangeline, in French, the story of the expulsion of the Acadians from their land by the English in the mid-18th century. The other speaks of being forced to give up French and speak English only at school due to a state law enacted in 1919 and not repealed until 1960. The government’s attempt to cancel her language and her culture forced the woman to drop out of school and become an expert seamstress. .
While the piece is a loving tribute to the strength and endurance of Acadian women, it is central to the loss and the lasting impact it has on the soul. Whether it is the loss of land, language, culture or a loved one in this century or those of the past, the loss reverberates through generations, inflicting pain again.
The Bangor theater company commissioned “Je Ne Suis Pas Evangeline” from Theater du Reve, an Atlanta-based theater company dedicated to bringing the French language and Francophone culture to life on the American stage. Cook is its founder and artistic director.
She found inspiration for the screenplay in an interview with Lise Pelletier, the director of the Acadian archives at Fort Kent. Pelletier explained that while Longfellow, an American man, beautifully captured the fate and spirit of the Acadians, the poem did not tell the whole story of the Acadians of Maine, nor show the strength, power and resilience of the Acadians. Franco-American women. .
In the poem, Evangeline spends 20 years searching for Gabriel, the love she was separated from in Le Grand Dérangement. She crisscrossed the continent in search of and yearning for him to kill him in her arms when they were finally reunited. Published in 1847, “Evangeline” was a bestseller.
Shots of Cook’s monologue, filmed at her home in Clarksville, Ga., Are interspersed with Jennifer Schottstaed portraying Evangeline in a non-speaking role. She was mostly filmed outdoors in Georgia, which doesn’t look much like northern Maine. Schottstaed appears onscreen looking longingly into the distance as Cook reads sections of the poem.
As long as the film is engaging, it’s impossible not to wonder when watching it what it would have looked like on the stage at the Bangor Opera House. It would surely have been longer and included musicians playing Acadian music. The tall pines and the Saint John River would certainly have been part of the whole.
But it stems from a desire for live performance after such a long, dark period of the pandemic, and “I Am Not Evangeline” is a successful film – a film that educates, entertains, and makes viewers fully aware of all that it is. they lost last year.
“Je Ne Suis Pas Evangeline” is available to stream until May 9. For more information on tickets, visit penobscottheatre.org or call 207-942-3333.