Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vive le theatrrrrre!

Ever since my mom and I went to the theater to see that Molière play, I have to admit that I've been eager to see another piece of French acting. What? Me? Who fears the breaking down of the 4th wall more than anything? Et oui. And so this morning at breakfast, I looked earnestly in the Pariscope and of course was stunned and pleasantly overwhelmed at the incredible choices to choose from. That's the critical cultural moment for me: can a city sustain live shows? If it can, then it's a major. (If not - sigh). OK - so would it be Ionesco's "La Cantatrice Chauve"? (the "Bald Soprano"? (I could see it at the theater just down the street where it's been playing every night since 1957 - every night!), or would it be "Le Donneur de Bain" (The Bath Merchant, I guess is how'd I'd translate it) set in 1848 Paris when the poor take their baths from a traveling salesman with a tub who'll clean you and listen to your worries. And then, this little ad in the sidebar of the Pariscope caught my eye: "007 meets Monty Python" - oui? My two favorite genres together at last? Little did I know. The reviewers promised: "The audience crumbles in laughter" (I'm transliterating here), "Mission of laughter accomplished!" "It beats the records for laughs per minute" "It's hilarious!" "Rush there!" and then, a new word I've never heard: "Elle vrombit de douleur à force d'être dilatée." (the word is getting translated as "roar" but I'm still having a bit of trouble: the piece "roars in pin from being so expansive" - I think I get it. But what the heck? It appears medieval (Gothic font on the ad, and the Monty Python comparison) and I'm in Paris, France so let's go to the theater already! Screwball comedy, here I come.

Nonetheless, I did a little hemming and hawing and worked until way past lunchtime and then, after a great little salad at the café in that one tower of the BN, I made the call for a ticket. It was sold out, oversold, but I could sit on a stool for 12euros. Done! So I worked really hard all afternoon and have come away with more knowledge, more images to work with, and more determination to write this book. I won't go into why because I'm eager to tell you about the play, but if I can go to a play by myself in Paris, France, I can jolly well write a book. The statement is non-sensical except that you have to do a certain amount of girding of your loins for both.

By the end (7:30 p.m.) of the day, I was tired and thinking sheepishly of take-out and TV. But the cheap Scotswoman in me knew I'd already paid for the ticket- and I also know that a warm meal makes a skittish woman strong, so I stopped in for a red pepper and goat cheese soup and a slice of quiche with salmon and zucchini (yes, you can do that in Paris, France now - very American!) And then Paris started doing that thing where it just smiles and smiles upon thee. I had a straight Metro shot from where I was at the BN to where I needed to be at the Théâtre Michel. The restaurant with that scrumptious dinner was right there near the Metro stop. The wind and rain ushered my into the most wonderful, really really crowded little theater ever. Fire codes? Ha ha ha! We laugh at them. Like, really laugh at them. It was absolutely packed (oversold out!) and in fact I was glad I was on stool because I had my huge BN backpack with me (computer and all - what style! what glamour!). Basically, once the house is full, they put stools up behind the last row (actually they're all these booths - very 19th century!) and we could see very well (could even rest our elbows on the backs of the booths).

And then the play started. And here, my friends, I defer to your judgment as to whether The Divine has a sense of humor, or this was just a wild, wild, wild coincidence. But the one play in Paris, France (of the dozens and dozens I had to choose from) is about... François Ier's alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you with me on the "C'est incroyable!?!?!?" factor!!! Can you believe it??? My obsession for the past six months is the driving narrative for a piece of (very, very funny) comedic theater. Either my entire project is a joke (well, yes!), or, hey baby, I just might have my finger on the beating pulse of French popular culture! (That and 3euros will get me a cup of coffee).

I mean "really!" and "wow!" - I'm still reeling (and will continue to reel, and chuckle and laugh for quite a while I do believe). François Ier seeks an alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent in order to corner Charles V (lousy emperor). All of his best agents that he's sent to Suleiman have returned in teeny tiny boxes, compliment of said emperor. So now, François wants to send a total "nul" (loser) guy, thinking that, logically, if the best agents are failing, the worst agent will succeed. It's all hilarious from then on: plays on words, sex jokes, anachronisms, mentions of popular culture. The Guignols had trained me well, but I'm sure that I still missed half of the popular culture stuff. And at the end of it all, tongue in cheek, but nonetheless there it was: a call for peace and love, for an "entente cordiale" between Christian and Muslim. (Not really a call, just a statement that hey, it almost happened!).

And now - Breton pop quiz!

From the image below, pick out the Breton guy (and try to avoid looking at the names)! Ready? Get set? Go!

Did you guess the guy in the bottom left? Erwan Creignou? You are correct! The thing is, I knew it almost from the minute he stepped on stage. And then, when I saw him do a biniou imitation, I totally knew! And if you look at the theater company's web site, you'll see that he's the only who mentions where he's from: go, Bretagne! There were only five actors (who played over 30 roles all told!), so this picture is a bit misleading. Sebastian Azzopardi played François Ier first (and lots and lots of roles after) - he's also one of the two writers of the piece. I wonder how common this is in Paris theater (or theater in general) that the playwright also direct and act in the piece? I always think of playwrights as smoking and having troubled lives off to the side (too much Eugene O'Neil growing up?) - not these guys! Their timing was astounding, they physical humor really really funny, and all of the language games are, of course, a blast. Can't remember a single one right now, but I'm still chuckling.

And then, as though to really give me a kiss good night, Paris proffered forth a night bus that whisked me past Opera, ran along the Seine for a good long, glittery while, let me see the Eiffel Tower full-on when we crossed the river, and deposited it me not 200 feet from my hotel. Bliss!

Well, mes amis, many good things are in the air (smiley face!) and tomorrow I'm going to go see that Froissart show (manuscripts of the Hundred Years War at the Invalides - huzzah!) and then meeting an alum of ours at Les Frigos (enormous refrigerated boxcars that had been used by the railroads and which have now been turned into art galleries - they're only open two days a year and tomorrow is one of those days). Vive Paris!

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