A Life Imitating Art

I miss Roland Axam.

I mean, I miss being Roland Axam. He's not gone anywhere: you can read about him in my novel and I'm slowly working on bringing him back in my next novel.

But I miss being Roland, when I took on his persona and, for six years, pretended to be him in a downtown Ottawa bar.

As convincing as my portrayal was, it was a fraud, a fiction (pun intended). I deceived people for years, only to be revealed and sent packing.


Pierre Brault has portrayed many characters over his decades in theatre, but in his one-man show, Portrait of an Unidentified Man, Pierre portrays many characters at once, and does so in such a convincing way that the story of the infamous Elmyr de Hory, a Hungarian painter who could not be successful as an artist in his own right but who was flawless as a forger of paintings by Matisse and Picasso, among others, and the people who encourage, befriend, and intersect de Hory's life—including the Gabor sisters and Orson Welles—comes off as a convincing, richly woven tale.

As de Hory puts it, why be yourself when you can be someone more interesting?

The one-act, 80-minute show begins with de Hory entertaining the rich and famous at a party, only to be interrupted by the police, who arrest de Hory and explain that he will be extradited to France to face charges of fraud and forgery. De Hory pleads with the arresting officer to allow him a few hours alone, in his apartment, in exchange for a full confession of his crimes.

The rest of the story does just that in a vivid way, but without props, backdrops, or other actors. Pierre uses carefully timed lights that project squares to outline the space in which he moves.

The effect is total believability.

Pierre moves from character to character, voice to voice, with such ease that at some points, you would swear that you hear people speaking over each other.

The only problem—if you can call it so—that I found in the performance was the periodic introduction of music. Sometimes, it played so softly that its near inaudibility made it almost a distraction. The music was too subtle and rare that I felt it wasn't needed at all.

The story, however, is perfectly woven, from its beginning to end, and was a pleasure to watch.

(And I'm not just saying that because Pierre is my comedy teacher and that I have another class with him, starting in June.)

Portrait of an Unidentified Man plays at The Gladstone Theatre until May 20. Go see it.


Pierre Brault will also be performing his other one-man play, Blood on the Moon, at Arts Court, from May 25 to 27. I saw it about 17 years ago, at the NAC, and it was a brilliant performance. Here, Pierre tells the tale of James Patrick Whelan, the man accused and convicted of the murder of Thomas D'Arcy Mcgee.

See that one, too.

Years ago, I portrayed only one person who I created. He was more interesting than me.

Pierre portrays several people and makes every one of them spectacular.

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