La comédie française
Introducing la comédie française
The comédie française, in addition to having some of the best actors in France in its troupe, will be embarking on a range of interesting collaborations (finally starting; it has already been a few years) with several writers and modern directors, a few of which we would like to talk about now.
Such beauty in the ephemeral theatre, clad in pale wood, just as in the Greek style which the French, deemed worthy enough to temporarily erect right in the heart of the gardens of the Palais Royale, just in front of the Buren columns, while the Italian and richly adorned Richlieu room just opposite is renovated and restored. Just as the Greeks allowed their spectators a fine view of the stage, this beautiful and ephemeral modern building welcomed with great pomp the first production in their repertoire by an American author. This is Naomi Wallace, an author who plays have often had trans-Atlantic success, which confront both social themes and more intimate reflections. The play chosen by the Comédie Française to be included in their repertoire is called ‘One Flea Spare’. It’s about what goes on behind closed doors. During 1665, a flea epidemic rampaged through London. A middle-class couple, locked up in their house awaiting the end of the forty days, find themselves acquainted with a young girl pretending to be from the nobility, and a young sailor. Whilst a guard, ensures that none of them are allowed to leave, a realistic black comedy plays out which will make some people’s skin crawl, but will be acclaimed by others.
The play is certainly demanding, but also on point, and has a pragmatic way of dealing with issues behind closed doors. And it is so well portrayed by Catherine Sauval, (noble wife who is looking for the truth behind her tortured soul), Julie Sicard (Morse, the cruel child in whom the truth is destroyed and then rebuilt) Guillaume Gallienne (bourgeois man, blackness of whose soul never fails to exhude) Félicien Juttner (Bunce, the sensual and conciliatory sailor, and Christian Gonon (Kabe, the lewd guard and philosopher) and it shines like a black diamond in its wooden hull.
The staging is simple, a little of ethereal subsidized theatre, but respectful of a profound text. It takes a bit of energy to grapple with it, but for those who get involved in it will be touched by the beauty of the original text that confronts both class and gender issues with a beautiful modernity. It is also affected too, of course, by the intensity of the characters and the talent of the actors. The best French comedians, no doubt about it, are indeed at la Comédie Français.
One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace. Running until the 12th June www.comedie-francaise.fr
During this period, at the Theatre du Vieux Colombier there is a real feat: Amphitryon, far from being one of Moliere’s best works, a large amount of it is written in Alexandrines, (it’s a plus in Racine but it might not be for everyone…) is doing very well, helped by a very shrewd set design (a house whose elements, all built in together, all slide together forwards, from 2D to 3D, and cleverly used when it is necessary) and great actors (have we already said that the best French actors are at la Comédie Française?) And also a good director Jacques Vincey.
And so to the story: the God Jupiter, ( played by Michel Vuillermoz, half terrible, half comical) wants to tease a woman Alcmene (played by Georgia Scalliet, a beautiful young girl who managed to snatch a Molière while it still existed, and who is much loved by the young people in la Comédie Française, but in order to become a member you have to like the Conservatoire style and the rather clipped and strange diction), so assumes the form of her husband, Amphitryon (Jerome Pouly firing on all cylinders). Mercure (Laurent Stocker, equally cut loose and who played a great, hilarious, and energetic Figaro) another mischevious God, in order to have fun with her boyfriend (and boss) Jupiter, becomes the head of the household of Amphitryon, Sosie, (Christian Hecq, so darkly burlesque) and several misunderstangings some of which are predictable, but nonetheless well portrayed by this small troupe.
For example, Cléanthis (Coraly Zahonero), the wife of Sosia, no longer wants to kiss her husband, because she was deceived by Mercury disguised as her husband and behaving like a hot-head.
Sosie and Amphitryon play the slightly dazed points of the humour in trying to understand the illusion of which they are the victims.
In short, if you really are against this play, it is better to give it a miss, (although you won’t have a bad moment even in this case), if not you will be pleasantly surprised.
Molière’s Amphitryon, running until the 24th June, Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, www.comedie-francaise.fr
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