To say it’s been a while would be an understatement.
It’s not that I’ve lost the inspiration to write, it’s more that things just started piling on one right after the other, and I kept just pushing all of this back further and further, saying I’d get to it. Eventually.
Eventually is almost 20 days later, apparently.
The one good thing about this though is that other than a few shows to write on/other significant events, the past few days weren’t incredibly overloaded with things to the point where writing about them would be impossible. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to keep things brief again.
Let’s start with the first of the two shows I saw over the course of the past few days, Le Récit d’un homme inconnu at the MC93.
Those familiar with Checkhov (and who also know French) might recognize the title, as the play is an adaptation of one of his stories. The plot can basically be summed up as follows:
- Young woman in an unfulfilling marriage leaves her husband to seek refuge at the house of her lover – a young, rich playboy type – who really had no idea she was serious when she said she was going to leave her husband for him and is thus rather surprised to find her at his door.
- Said young man has in his employ a valet – the titular unknown man – who is not quite what he seems. You see, he is not merely a valet. No. He is a revolutionary, one who has taken up the position as valet in order to obtain information on the young man’s father : a prominent political figure and, I should note, someone who never appears on stage. He quickly realizes the futility of this, as his employer only seems interested in half-reading books while laughing to himself like someone on the verge of transforming into a Bond villain. However, the valet also develops a liking for the young woman.
- As these things usually go, the young woman falls pregnant. The young man casts her out – not knowing that she was pregnant – , and the valet, because he just really likes her, whisks her away to Italy where they live blissfully in Venice for a few months before the young woman goes into labor. She has the baby – a girl – and then dies immediately after, likely by suicide. The play ends some years later with the now disillusioned valet returning to his former employer to deliver him his daughter, who he is now responsible for.
Unlike the dance piece I saw at this theatre a few months ago, this piece was staged in their smaller salle transformable or transformable space (think a large black box). Upstage was a long white partition divided by three white doors. A row of empty wine and champagne lined the front of said partition. Hanging from the ceiling was what looked like a closed blue umbrella (this was, of course, opened later when the young woman and the valet flee to Venice). Given the smaller size of the space, most of the seats were raked, but there were a few placed on the ground, on the same level as the playing space, shaped in a sort of proscenium arch.
The staging remained more or less frontal, with a few exceptions. First, at the start of the second act, the valet began by reciting a long monologue about how he came to work in the house, culminating with the reading of a rather bellicose letter he wrote to his former employer. At one point during the reading, the actor pulled out actual copies of the letter and began distributing them amongst various audience members. Think of it as a way of bringing us partially into his world – the monologue was addressed to the audience as well -, thus a first sort of spatial-temporal blending that would occur in this production.
The second involved the use of a video projector onto which was shown a pre-recorded video of the valet and the young woman in Venice. At first corresponding somewhat in ‘real time’ to the events being narrated by the valet (yeah…it was a long monologue), the temporality of the video soon began to distance itself from the narrative being crafted on stage, creating a second fictional space within the framework of the principle one.
Though not even this twisting and folding of spatial-temporality could distract from the fact that this was a four hour play that could have easily been condensed down to two – at most three. Not really helping was the fact that the actors spoke in an affective manner that over-emphasized the passage and rhythm of time.
The second show I saw though was more like a homecoming than anything.
Let me preface: when I was a freshman in high school, I was cast in a workshop production of Complicité’s Mnemonic. To say this show changed my life might sound a bit cliché, but it’s true. This was the first time I fully immersed myself in something truly experimental and ensemble-based (because listen, when you live in the suburbs, it can sometimes feel like it’s musical theatre or nothing which…merits a post of its own because I have so many thoughts, too many, to fit here), and I can say that my fervor for all things theatrically strange and daring could find their roots here.
Anyway, on Friday, March 30, I saw Simon McBurney’s The Encounter at Odéon.
This was pretty much a one man show – or well, one man plus an absolutely intense team of sound designers and engineers that he actually took the time to acknowledge, something not many do, at least not in speech – but the premise was more about a crossing of narratives. During a talkback the seminar I’m taking had with McBurney the afternoon before the show, one of the things he emphasized was how we are all storytellers. That storytelling was at the heart of his theatre practice. This play had at its center the recounting of photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 expedition into the Amazon and subsequent contact with the Mayoruna tribe. What starts as an attempt to document them through photographs to later be sold to National Geographic later turns into an exploration on the very notion of time, and the nature of those moments that photography seeks to suspend, to pull from a timeline (or time-wheel) to remain in stillness.
Rather than telling McIntyre’s story in one go, McBurney punctuated it with moments of interruption by his daughter, who – via a pre-recorded voice-over – kept entering her father’s workspace, asking him why he was still up working so late, and whether he could tell her another story to help her fall asleep. And really, in the end, this little girl who both was and was not there becomes the most important thing, this potential future that has the potential to respond to the mistakes of those that came before her. Though, unlike the most recent of Mouawad’s plays, this almost ecological message was not hammered into our faces.
I should go back to the presence/non-presence thing because the most fantastic thing about this show was without a doubt the way it played with sound. Upon taking their seat, each member of the audience found a pair of headphones attached to the back of their chairs. Oh yes, we wore headphones throughout the entire show – and this was almost mandatory, as taking them off would have plunged you into almost complete silence and torn you out of what was in the process of being crafted on stage. And really, I don’t think I could say enough about the sound design because there were moments when I honestly could not tell if what I was hearing was happening on stage or if it was something/one in the house. Granted, having this kind of experience means in part giving yourself over entirely to what is happening, and opening yourself up to be affected, but really, it is incredibly difficult not to. Hell, I was sitting in the second row of the first mezzanine, and I found myself leaning over, wanting more than anything to dive in even further.
Anyway, enough of the theatrics. On to other things!
Namely, food-related things.
I’m happy to say I have two new restaurants to add to my ever-growing list of places I like going out to eat here. Coincidentally, both of these places involve small-plates dining.
First, L’Arbre Jaune, or, what happens when you and your dining companion (but really, mostly you because your hunger makes you indecisive) can’t decide on where to go for dinner, and end up making a last-minute reservation on the one place you’ve managed to find that lets you do that online.
We started with an order of chicken liver pâté and saucisson, then moved on to a cauliflower velouté, clams, beef cheeks, pig’s trotters in filo, and finally concluded with cheese (yeah…the problem with this having been two or so weeks ago, I cannot remember what cheese we had). All of it washed down with a nice half bottle of red that I also can’t remember the name of because I don’t take notes on this thing, and there is obviously a reason why I don’t blog about food.
As someone who usually does quite a bit of reasearch before going out to eat, I was slightly apprehensive about coming here at first. Thankfully, my fears were assuaged with a more than pleasant meal (holy shit those beef cheeks were amazing), that came out to a more than reasonable price (less than 40eu per person for all we had).
The second food adventure though was one that was a very long time coming – and one that I got to share with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
This past week, one of my very good friends from high school came to visit me (!), and other than the usual pastry/coffee/cheese/charcuterie stops I usually take visitors on, we decided to treat ourselves to one night of indulgence. So I made reservations this past Tuesday at Au Passage.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to schedule this meal on a Tuesday, as it sort of set the precedent rather high for the rest of the week, but when eating here has been something of a goal for the past few years, all of that nonsense pretty much gets thrown out the window. We had a bit of trouble deciding what to order at first – everything looked so good, and I don’t doubt that any choice we made would’ve been a good one -, but then our waitress mentioned that they only had two portions of the scallops left for the night. Thus our choices were made: terrine, radishes and butter to start, followed by roasted carrots and chèvre, then asparagus, ramps, and lardon, then the famous scallops with celery, celeriac purée and saffron, and finally papardelle with lamb ragout. As to the wine, the thing I do remember is that it was a red from the southwest and that it, like all their wines, was biodynamic. I never claimed to be an expert on these things, so I’m going to chalk up remembering this much for a win. Maybe next time I’ll remember the cépage…
And so began a week filled with insanely long walks (of course), consumption of viennoiseries, and picnicking during the first legitimately nice day of spring (yeah it started to sprinkle on us – and just us – a bit towards the end of our picnic lunch on Saturday, but that’s what umbrellas are for).
And since I started this post by speaking about theatre, I’m going to end it with theatre as well, but this time on something that directly involves me.
A few weeks ago, I put out word on Facebook that I really missed performing (which…yeah the back and forth I do with myself sometimes over whether or not I should have tried balancing performing more with my research is still a thing that happens relatively often). One of my facebook friends (whose show I had seen in the beginning of the fall) here reached out and mentioned they had a friend coming into the city soon who would be starting up a workshop, and would I be interested in learning more/possibly be involved? I said yes, connected with the workshop director via sending in an intro video , and things jived well enough to the point that last night I was back in a studio playing with a group of other performers, something I haven’t done in far too long. Really, I felt like I was coming home again in a room of (mostly) strangers. Sometimes I get a bit of anxiety when meeting new people. Theatre – and actually rehearsal spaces more specifically – is the only place where that does not happen.
And it’s getting a bit late now, so I’ll close with a quick note on a discussion I attended this evening on architecture and the banlieues that also incorporated the question of theatre (in part because it was held in a theatre, but also because one of the panelists was theatre director Karim Bel Kacem). I’m still sort of processing this one, since it literally just happened, but I’ll just give a little shout-out here to a boyfriend who was very on-point with this recommendation.