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The magic of theatre brings a miner’s tragedy to life

Burying one’s child is a tragedy beyond description.

Yet the theatrical production Slague – L’histoire d’un mineur effectively brings to life the emotional impact of such a loss.

Slague is a French adaptation of Mansel Robinson’s Spitting Slag, one of two plays from his book Rock ‘N Rail. The story depicts a miner’s grief and anger as he tries to cope with a mining accident that took his son’s life and left him paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. Renowned Franco-Ontarian author and actor Jean Marc Dalpé adapted, translated and performed Slague as a one-man play for Sudbury’s Theatre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO). Directed by Genevieve Pineault, TNO’s artistic director, the show premiered in Sudbury on February 28 to March 1, 2008. It returned again at the end of November after its fall tour in Northern Ontario, Ottawa, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Dalpé, who plays a crippled miner named Pierre DeLorimier, lures the audience into his world of turmoil as he seeks revenge after his son’s death in a mine caving. DeLorimier’s character is haunted by past mistakes that he believes can be rectified through the justice system, only to find he must take responsibility for his previous actions.

As a 30-year veteran in theatre and winner of three Governor General’s Awards, Dalpé has spent the last 15 years writing, adapting and translating plays. When he read Spitting Slag, he sent it to Pineault, who was quite receptive to it.

“I worked in Sudbury during the ‘80s for about eight years and thought it would be a good play for the TNO,” he said. “It renewed my relationship with Sudbury and the TNO.”

Dalpé was no stranger to mining. While he lived in Sudbury, he was involved in writing Nickel, a production about the union coming to Sudbury.

“We did quite a bit of research at the time and even went down to visit a mine, which was organized by Inco.”

Although this was Dalpé’s first one-man play, he enjoyed performing it and said the audience reacted well to it.

“The whole piece is about this character who needs to tell his story,” Dalpé said. “I had the images of the mine and how he talks. I just plugged myself into that energy, that need, and it flowed from there.”

A background of projected photographs of miners at work and a fellow singing English mining songs, accompanied the one-hour and 15-minute performance, adding another dimension to the powerhouse production.

While on tour in Sept-Îles, Quebec, Dalpé provided a preview of the first 10 minutes of the play to an unknowing group of miners at Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Company during a health and safety course. It did not take long before the entire room of 50 to 60 workers were captivated by this strange man in the wheel chair and his monologue, which detailed the story’s cave-in, the eight days the miners were trapped underground and the death of his son and loss of his own mobility.

Afterward, he declared his real identity and gave out free tickets to the play, much to the onlookers’astonishment.

“They were surprised and their reaction was very generous,” Dalpé said.

He was originally introduced to the story through Ghost Trains, Robinson’s other play in the Rock ‘N Rail book. He performed both plays in Montreal for Robinson, who was pleased to see the French adaptations.

Future performances may be in the offing as TNO looks to Toronto for a possible March tour.

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