If a man came face to face with his boyhood self, both would recoil: the man in despair and the boy in terror. So the narrator in this one-man play, written and performed by Lebanese-born Canadian Wajde Mouawad, tells us before he removes his jacket and tie and proceeds to recount a curious coming-of-age story.
The titular adolescent, a loner who’s never learnt the “difference between lies and fiction”, has disappeared. Has he been killed or kidnapped? Has he run off with an older woman? Has he lost his mind? Or committed suicide?
Mouawad plays some 27 characters encountered during the investigation into what’s become of Alphonse; amongst them his concerned siblings and weary parents, an affable police inspector, a dippy neighbour and a classroom of peers – as well as the boy’s imaginary friend Pierre-Paul, who’s embarked on a simultaneous adventure in Pastryburg.
While Mouawad is an adept storyteller and performer, easily inhabiting the spectrum of personae, with a knack for simple but effective stagecraft, including a popcorn shower, there are tracts of the writing that jar. Poetic speeches about the sculpting effects of the night or oceans giving birth to new continents are too eloquent for a boy, no matter how precocious.
The flights of fantasy never really convince as the product of a childlike imagination either – everything sounds filtered through an adult perspective. It’s just that bit too knowing and, as a result, misses out on the magical.