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These 'grumpy old men' know they don't actually have much to complain about

Like the characters they play on stage, these two grizzled Edmonton seniors exude humour, warmth and a --mostly--positive outlook on aging.

Robert, a grump, spends hours in front of his grandson's school hoping to see him. His friend Jean accompanies him, trying to bolster his spirits. As they flow from depression to ecstasy, laughing and crying, they decide to reject the darkness, enjoy life and strive to remain relevant. Because, above all, there is hope.

This blurb describing Everything is Beautiful, a 60-minute play translated to English for this year's Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, has many similarities to the real lives of long-time friends and the play's French-speaking stars, Gilles Denis and Andre Roy. After all, the Edmonton seniors and stage colleagues, (with a whole lot of dramatic credentials between them) deal with many of the same things explored in this touching comedy/drama: loss and grief, and remaining relevant and positive while facing old age.

"I told Gilles, next play we do I refuse to be the grumpy one," said Roy, who admits of the two, yes, he's grumpier, but is still a positive person. And why wouldn't he be, he asks? At 79, the former rock' n roll radio DJ, CBC French radio announcer, and TV sports broadcaster says he still gets excited about getting on stage, in front of an audience. 

"It's magic. The stage is my space--I live for it," said Roy, adding he's always wanted to be in front of the camera; not behind it. Flunking out of St. Boniface college in Winnipeg in his youth, the rebellious Roy originally met Denis at the University of Alberta's Campus Saint-Jean, but it was years before the pair started working together. "I did a lot of Moliere over the years--he's like the French Shakespeare--but I'm getting excited about working in English too. It means we can bring our work to a whole new audience."

Indeed, Denis and Roy (who've received awards and acclaim for their contribution to French arts and culture) bring the simple set of a park bench and two fake trees when they've taken the French version of the story to seniors' homes in French communities across Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. For the past ten years, explains Denis, audiences have embraced Prends mes yeux, tu vas voir, written and then translated by France Levasseur-Ouimet, and many other plays and workshops presented by the pair. 

"We're so privileged to do this--it does keep us feeling creative, and I'm happy to make enough to cover our expenses when we go on tour," said Denis who, for decades, taught drama and Phys-ed at École J.H. Picard School. At 73, the outgoing and upbeat Sherwood Park man (who also studied clown, plays golf, bridge and is an enthusiastic RV traveller--even with hip and knee replacements!) does admit to sore joints, but adds he refuses to ever be depressed.

"It's mind over matter. I'm a happy-go-lucky guy. In fact, we'd like to do stand-up in our next show. Like my character in the show, I do sometimes see life through 'rose-coloured glasses."

"We're a good team, and Gilles is so generous on stage," added Roy, who acknowledges for him, things aren't always so golden with age. "Concentrating can be tougher for me now, and my energy went to zero after I had COVID the other year. But I still remember the Latin prayers from when I was an altar boy in 1952! People tell me, 'You'll die on stage', and I say, 'I've done it many times'. I should day."

One day, but not yet. The almost octogenarian is currently writing a one-man show about assimilation of the French community in a small Saskatchewan town. And after Denis comes back from he and his wife's usual R.V. winter retreat in Arizona, (and all the dancing, cards and golf they enjoy there), he's likewise looking forward to the next onstage adventure.

For now, the pair (who've been compared to that famous odd couple, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) have started their journey with English plays to crowds at this year's Fringe. They're hoping to tour the translated version of the play to seniors' homes down the road.

"The humour translates well; some puns are different, we've added a few lines for the English version, but the themes of aging with grace and vitality, told with truth and compassion--that's universal--for everybody, every age, in any language," Denis said.

To inquire about bringing the show to a seniors' facility, email [email protected].