Long regarded as Canada’s greatest playwright, Michel Tremblay has been openly gay since the early 1970’s. His stage successes began in 1968 when his early work Les Belles-Soeurs was produced on a Montréal stage. This one-act play set off a major controversy: like his counterparts in Britain with their “kitchen sink” dramas, Tremblay had dared to represent Québec’s working class onstage, something that until then had, for all practical purposes, never before been done. The show has since been produced around the world in dozens of languages.
Since this initial success, Tremblay has produced a body of work that is simply staggering, encompassing 26 plays, a dozen novels, plus short stories, memoirs, essays, screenplays, and an opera. Never far from his creative vision is an ensemble of characters, some gay, some straight, some in drag. His play Hosanna, for example, has a drag queen doing Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, serving as a metaphor for French-speaking Québec’s own identity crisis. He’s regarded as Québec’s literary godfather, a man who still says he wishes the province had separated from Canada many years ago.
I sat down with Michael Tremblay in his Montréal East-end office to discuss his body of work and how being gay has influenced it.