Rita Lafontaine, OC, OQ, actor (born 8 June 1939 in Trois-Rivières, QC; died 4 April 2016 in Montréal). The muse of playwright Michel Tremblay, Rita Lafontaine performed in the first production of Les Belles-Sœurs (1968) and went on to play more than a dozen parts written by Tremblay. Over the course of her 50-year career, this artist left an indelible mark on Québec theatre, film and television.
Rita Lafontaine, a favourite performer of playwright Michel Tremblay and director André Brassard, began in theatre at the same time as they did — in the late 1960s. They formed a partnership at the Mouvement Contemporain, an amateur theatre company founded by Brassard; this was the beginning of professional relationship that would last 50 years. In 1966, Lafontaine and Brassard launched their first work by Tremblay — Cinq, an early version of En pièces détachées — at the Patriote-en-Haut. In 1968, all three made striking professional debuts with Les Belles-Soeurs at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert. The same year, Rita Lafontaine appeared in the cast of L'École des bouffons by Ghelderode, directed by Brassard at the Centre du Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui. Under his direction, she would perform an impressive range of characters by Tremblay, but also by Françoise Loranger (Double Jeu, Comédie-Canadienne, 1969) and Tennessee Williams (Le Pays du dragon, Théâtre de Quat'Sous, 1972). Lafontaine was seen in works by Euripides (Andromaque/Andromache, Théâtre de Quat'Sous, 1974), Feydeau (Le Dindon, National Arts Centre/Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, 1978) and Chekhov (Uncle Vanya, adapted by Tremblay, NAC/TNM, 1983), repertoire that she performed less frequently.
Performances in Tremblay’s Works
Inseparable from the dramatic works of Michel Tremblay, Lafontaine created some 15 roles in his plays, where, directed by Brassard, she gave her greatest performances, even recalling characters from different periods: Manon in both À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou (Théâtre de Quat'Sous, 1971) and Damnée Manon, sacrée Sandra (Quat'sous, 1977); Albertine at 40 in Albertine, en cinq temps (Rideau Vert, 1985) and also in La Maison suspendue (Compagnie Jean-Duceppe, 1990); Madeleine 1 in Le Vrai monde? (Rideau Vert, 1987); and Nana, created in tribute to Tremblay’s mother, Rhéauna Rathier, in Encore une vous si vous le permettez (Rideau Vert, 1998). Thanks to a unique disposition and cheeky humour, she perfected her popular style, particularly in Tremblay's plays, and adopted a perpetual play of tension between the comic and the tragic.
During the same period, she worked with other directors, notably René Richard Cyr, who mounted Bonbons assortis (2006) by Tremblay at the Rideau Vert and L'Examen de passage de Horovitz (1992) with Jean-Duceppe's company, where she was seen regularly from 1986. She performed works by American authors Neil Simon (Brighton Beach Memoirs, 1986, and Bonjour Broadway, 1989), Tennessee Williams (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 2000) and Arthur Miller (The Crucible, 1989) as well as works by Québec writers, notably Marie Laberge (Oublier, 1987).
Rita Lafontaine's comic talent was successfully showcased in several summer comedies, and she championed the plays of Marie-Thérèse Quinton at the Théâtre de la Chèvrerie (St-Fortunat), from Lucky Luciano (1987) to La Vie en couleurs (1999). In 2004, she founded le Centre des arts Rita-Lafontaine, in Saint-Joseph de Ham-Sud where, in its first season, she directed and performed La Reine mère by Anne Boyer and Michel D'Astous.
She has made some 30 films since her debut on screen in 1972 in André Brassard's Françoise Durocher, waitress, with a script by Michel Tremblay. The same duo followed with Il était une fois dans l'Est (1974) and Le soleil se lève en retard (1976). Her major role on the big screen is without a doubt the woman in need of passion in L'Homme de rêve (1991), a film by Robert Ménard for which she won a Gémeaux Award, the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois prize and the Séquence magazine prize. In 2003, she appeared in director Jean-François Pouliot’s commercial and critical success La Grande Séduction (Seducing Doctor Lewis).
She was seen on television in Le Retour (1996‒2001), which earned several awards, and in plays by Janette Bertrand, notably Dis-moi-le si je dérange (1993). She appeared in the TV series Le monde de Charlotte (2001‒04), followed by Un monde à part (2004‒06) and in the popular series Les Super Mamies (2002‒03) by Lise Payette, which starred four actresses in their sixties and followed their daily lives, their relationships with their lovers, children and grandchildren, and their views of the future.
In 2006, Lafontaine performed brilliantly and to great acclaim in the play by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Oscar et la dame Rose, at the Monument-National theatre in Montréal and at the Grand Théâtre de Québec to celebrate the centenary of Hôpital Ste-Justine in Montréal. Le paradis à la fin de vos jours, a play specially written for her by Michel Tremblay, was originally staged at the Rideau Vert in 2008 before going on tour. Lafontaine’s performance as the mythical character Nana brought the 90-minute monologue to life; having so often performed Tremblay’s parts, no one was more skilled than her at rendering his caustic humour.
Honours and Awards
Guy-L’Écuyer Award (L’Homme de rêve), Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois (1992)
Gémeaux Award for Best Lead Actress – Drama (L’Homme de rêve), ACCT (1992)
Gémeaux Award for Best Lead Actress ‒ Television Drama (Le Retour), ACCT(1999)
Gémeaux Award for Best Lead Actress ‒ Television Drama (Le Retour), ACCT(2000)
Officer of the Order of Canada (2005)
Prix hommage, Gala des Femmes du cinéma, de la télévision et des nouveaux médias (2007)
Tribute, Théâtre Espace GO (2009)
Honorary doctorate, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (2009)
Officer of the National Order of Québec (2011)