“where did everybody get donuts?” i wonder aloud to the other loner flying solo at al lafrance’s one-man show, the quitter. the guy doesn’t hear me, or pretends not to. it’s quiet save for the sam cooke track playing in the small show room at montreal’s improv theatre. i sit down, watching everyone around me chew their honey cruellers and boston cremes. “could go for an old fashioned plain about now,” i think, this time to myself. eventually it dawns on me that the donuts are a nod to the show’s tagline “an all true tale of donuts, mini-golf, and cannibalism.” even the sam cooke track, “that’s it, i quit,” is a clever reference to the show’s theme of life lessons, relationships, and giving up.
montreal’s annual fringe week is a music, arts, and performance festival that takes place at various locations around the plateau every summer. al lafrance, founder of bloody underrated, brave person, and beard squad captain is starring in the quitter, a solo play that tells al’s story in 55 minutes. written and performed by al with direction and lighting by sophie croteau, the show is scripted, but it somehow doesn’t feel performed. quite the opposite, it feels honest. relatable. of course, those are words you could use to describe any performance piece, any kind of art, but within the first minutes of the quitter, you’re immediately on al’s side. and why shouldn’t you be? there’s donuts on al’s side.
the quitter begins as the story of al’s youth, working various jobs and choosing to quit when things reached a point where they made him unhappy. there were times where i felt very close to the story. although i didn’t laugh out loud (stand-up and theatre alike rarely make me laugh out loud), there was a lot of bemused chuckling, the kind of laugh you laugh when something is funny because it’s true. the story reached the donut portion — “so say there was this club, this donut club, where people could meet up and talk about donuts, well, would you be interested in something like that?” — a gem of a monologue that hid references to identity, friendship, and loving what you do within the folds of its witty and at times self-deprecating dialogue.
such was the way with the show as a whole; nestled within a story about doing shrooms and climbing mont royal (an archetypal right of passage for any montrealer) was a poignant moment about feeling completely at home, and completely at peace looking out at the city’s lights — the same kind of moments that i feel so whole heartedly when dancing at piknic, or drinking at tam tams, or walking through the mile end.
perhaps the show’s best moment came when al described the death of a friend. not a particularly close friend, but one who touched his life in some way. comic relief was there when it was needed but the story felt so close to my own experiences, and, quite clearly, to most of the audience’s. the lessons about quitting if you need to were markedly honest and intelligent: lessons you learn unbegrudgingly, the kind we’ve all been thankful to learn at some point. it felt a bit like listening to your own story being told, grounded by the “montreal” of it all, the “fringe” of it all, and most of all, the “donuts” of it all. al was right: where the quitter is concerned, maybe donuts really are the great equalizer.