Freed from Protesters, Paris Theaters Reopen With Little Creativeness

2021-06-10 14:00:25

PARIS — When the Odéon Theater reopened to audiences right here with a staging of “The Glass Menagerie” on the finish of Might, its acquainted columns regarded considerably bare. For 2-and-a-half months, they’d been adorned with giant protest indicators made by the humanities staff occupying the theater. Shortly earlier than they left, one signal learn: “Reopening: The Nice Comedy.”

Inside occupied theaters round France, the scenario grew more and more tense in Might after the federal government introduced plans to permit performances to renew. On the one hand, a key purpose of the protesters — the return of cultural life — was met. On the opposite, the occupations had morphed by then into a bigger social motion with calls for past the humanities, together with the withdrawal of coming modifications to unemployment advantages.

That set protesters on a collision course with annoyed theater directors. But as quick as they’d unfold in early March, the occupations stopped. College students on the Colline and T2G theaters left in the course of the first week of June, whereas some elsewhere had been compelled out. The Odéon’s occupiers moved to a friendlier Paris venue, the Centquatre.

Whereas watching “The Glass Menagerie,” although, it was exhausting to neglect them. The Odéon didn’t assist its case by reopening with a prepandemic, star-led manufacturing that felt worlds away from all the things that has occurred over the previous yr.

With the outstanding director Ivo van Hove within the driver’s seat, “The Glass Menagerie” premiered shortly earlier than the primary French lockdown in March 2020. Its primary promoting level was the presence of Isabelle Huppert, taking the function of Amanda Wingfield, the previous Southern belle teetering on the sting of actuality, for the primary time.

It was a piece in progress after I noticed it then, however it now appears as aimless as Amanda herself. The drab units, by Jan Versweyveld, lure the solid inside brown partitions embellished with the silhouette of Mr. Wingfield, Amanda’s absent husband, who deserted the household years earlier than.

The play’s characters are appropriately depressing in that décor, but the actors typically seem like taking part in from totally different scores, partly as a result of Huppert is an idiosyncratic stage presence today. As Amanda, she is stressed, even humorous, as she repeatedly makes an attempt to maintain her son, Tom, from leaving by clinging to his legs. Van Hove feeds her over-the-top moments, together with a scene wherein she seems to masturbate on the kitchen counter whereas reminiscing about her youth.

But the efficiency typically makes the manufacturing appear overly acutely aware of her aura, of her sheer Huppert-ness, to the purpose that her companions alter to her vitality when she is onstage.

The very best scenes truly come when Laura, Amanda’s fragile daughter, is left alone with Jim, her previous high-school crush. Cyril Gueï makes a form, mild Jim, and van Hove’s selection of a Black actor for the function reinforces the racial dynamics implicit in Amanda’s rose-tinted imaginative and prescient of the Previous South. Gueï’s reference to Justine Bachelet’s Laura is real sufficient that for a second, a cheerful denouement appears inside attain.

Laura, performed as touchingly muted by Bachelet, briefly comes alive earlier than resigning herself. Van Hove has given her a basic French track to sing as she offers Jim her glass unicorn as an adieu: Barbara’s 1970 “L’Aigle Noir” (“The Black Eagle”), a couple of traumatic childhood reminiscence that feels precisely proper for Laura’s character.

Whereas capability remained restricted till this week to 35 p.c of seats, a lot of different theaters right here rushed to reopen as quickly because it grew to become potential. On the tiny À La Folie Theater, the actress and director Laetitia Lebacq debuted a uncommon manufacturing of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 play, “The Respectful Whore,” which is ready, like “The Glass Menagerie,” within the American South.

Whereas Sartre wrote a lot of performs, they’ve largely fallen out of style on the French stage. It’s a disgrace, as a result of “The Respectful Whore,” whereas often over-explanatory, units up its central battle in a compact, environment friendly method. It takes place solely on the residence of a prostitute, Lizzie, who’s caught up in a case of blatant racial discrimination. Two Black males are accused of raping her as a method of exculpating the white son of a senator, who shot certainly one of them.

Lizzie herself is overtly racist, but refuses to falsely testify that she was raped — till the senator and his son power her hand. Lebacq navigates the function of Lizzie with out smoothing over her contradictions and occasional foolishness, and Baudouin Jackson brings pathos to the resignation one of many anonymous accused within the face of normalized racism. Philippe Godin, because the smooth-talking senator, and Bertrand Skol, who performs his repressed son, additionally make a wonderful case for Sartre’s character improvement.

As summer season nears, some venues have additionally turned to alfresco theater to attract audiences. On the Théâtre de la Tempête, Thomas Quillardet introduced two exhibits tailored from motion pictures by the Nouvelle Imprecise filmmaker Éric Rohmer. He was famend for the standard of his dialogue, and each “The place Hearts Meet” (impressed by two movies, 1984’s “Full Moon in Paris” and 1986’s “The Inexperienced Ray”) and “The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque” stream and poo like good champagne.

“The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque,” primarily based on the 1993 movie of the identical title and carried out in a park simply behind the venue, additionally stands out for its political relevance. This story of a small-town mayor whose plans to construct a multimedia library run into opposition from inexperienced activists would possibly unfold equally at this time, all the way down to its left-wing divisions on local weather points. It even includes a track praising the fun of working from residence — three a long time earlier than Covid-19 made {that a} widespread necessity.

Performs like this are a reminder of what we’ve gained as cultural establishments reopen in France, but the expertise stays in some methods bittersweet. For over two months, from March to Might, occupiers basically reclaimed venues, just like the Odéon, that normally play host to a small subset of the French inhabitants.

In response to the most recent large-scale research of cultural habits within the nation, in 2018, solely 12 p.c of France’s working class had attended a theater efficiency within the earlier yr. The viewers for status productions reminiscent of van Hove’s “Glass Menagerie,” particularly, is hardly consultant of French society at giant.

After a yr of upheaval, extra imaginative choices would have been welcome. What if administrators across the nation had given occupiers an opportunity to carry their very own on the phases they spent a lot time round? It’s not the social revolution protesters had been gunning for, however it might need been a begin.

The Glass Menagerie. Directed by Ivo van Hove. Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe. Additional performances deliberate in Tokyo, Athens and Amsterdam from September via November.

The Respectful Whore. Directed by Laetitia Lebacq. A La Folie Théâtre, via June 20.

The place Hearts Meet / The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque. Directed by Thomas Quillardet. Théâtre de la Tempête, via June 20.

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