Sunday, January 8, 2017

Memorable Theatergoing 2016 -- "Glass Menagerie" in Paris

When I was in Paris last April, I took myself to see La ménagerie de verre (The Glass Menagerie), directed by Daniel Jeanneteau at the Théâtre National de la Colline. It was definitely a European-style staging: minimalist set, barefoot actors, some stylized movement seemingly influenced by modern dance. But because Glass Menagerie is a memory play (not a work of strict realism), much of the abstraction and minimalism worked for me. The production also made very effective use of scrims: most of the scenes happened behind a veil so when the actors emerged from behind it, it was very powerful.

Moreover, that scene between Laura and Jim is so damn well written, so delicate and romantic and heartbreaking, and the production played it completely straight, and even though I was in the very last row of the theater, I got tears in my eyes when the glass unicorn broke and Laura said "Maintenant il est comme tous les autres chevaux" ("Now he is like all the other horses").

I understood probably 95% of the dialogue; Tennessee Williams doesn't strike me as incredibly hard to translate to French, and the actors spoke fairly slowly. Even now, months later, I can hear Amanda's final words to Tom from this version: "Va à la lune, espèce de reveur... EGOISTE!" ("Go to the moon, you selfish dreamer!") The "pleurosis"/"blue roses" pun, which I thought might be the most difficult bit of the play to translate, actually lent itself to a direct translation: it became "pleurésie"/"Bleu-Rosie." And "gentleman caller" got translated as "galant," which is kind of the best.

And I love going to the theater in France and making the actors do five curtain calls and applauding so much my arms hurt. And I totally got an instant crush on the slim, tousled French dude with hipster glasses and a blazer who was running the theater bookstore. And I went to a café afterwards on Place Gambetta and ordered chocolate mousse and a laughably large carafe of red wine, because I was rusty on the metric system, and when I apologized to the waiter, he reassured me "Well, you'll sleep well tonight, non?" And I giddy-giggled, slightly tipsy from that wine, on an empty Métro car, as I checked Facebook and saw what was happening with my friends, nine hours behind me on the other side of the world. And I changed trains at République station and encountered a cloud of tear gas on the platform: protests about a new labor law were going on above, in the Place de la République. And, mercifully, my train arrived about thirty seconds later, so I just held my breath till I could escape into its cleaner air. And I spoke French the whole night and nobody tried to speak to me in English. And I learned that seeing a beautiful play that brings tears to your eyes will more than make up for minor irritations, like running into a cloud of gas that brings tears to your eyes. And it was one of the best nights I had all year.

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