2 French Playwrights Reclaim Their Works, Bringing Them Home

Inside, over drinks, meals and, in a predictable however efficient scene, in a restroom, Josiane Stoléru offers a subtly dynamic efficiency because the forgetful Yvonne. While ostensibly there to offer comedian reduction, she distills a number of the most potent strains (and silences). The lanky Micha Lescot, probably the most distinctive French actors of his era, is Yvonne’s weary son, Eric; solely Camille Japy, as Françoise, is a notch much less plausible than her colleagues.

While Ms. Reza glosses over some questionable transitions to maintain the 5 characters collectively, the general building of “Bella Figura” is textbook in its simplicity. Ms. Reza has lengthy been probably the most widespread dwelling French playwrights on the world stage, with two Tonys and two Laurence Olivier Awards to her identify (for “Art” and “God of Carnage”), however her work’s reception has been oddly skewed in her native nation, which maintains a inflexible distinction between publicly and privately funded theater. Public venues are likely to favor experimental, intellectual fare, whereas non-public fare is usually thought of crowd-pleasing and considerably missing in mental worth — typically a deadly flaw in France.

Ms. Reza, who first rose to prominence within the 1980s, has principally been perceived as a “private” playwright, partly due to her simple material and narratives. (The Théâtre du Rond-Point, the place “Bella Figura” is being carried out, receives public funding, however its programming usually straddles the divide.)

Elmer Bäck and Marina Hands in “Actrice,” written and directed by Pascal Rambert, on the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris.

Jean-Louis Fernandez

One false assumption is that Ms. Reza’s work issues much less for that cause. Actually, its intricate material depends on what occurs between the strains, on the depths of resentment and petty emotions beneath the social veneer. “Bella Figura” isn’t a significant work by her requirements, however the craft that went into it serves the story and the actors. International producers will most certainly seize on the chance.

Mr. Rambert belongs to the identical era of playwrights, however his fashion may hardly be extra totally different. As “Actrice” (“Actress”) demonstrates on the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (by Dec. 30), it’s as verbose as Ms. Reza’s is modest. His favourite rhetorical machine is the anaphora, the repetition of a phrase or phrase at the start of successive clauses, and there are too many to depend in “Actrice,” a play billed as a tribute to feminine actors that falters below its personal ambitions.

Mr. Rambert wrote “Actrice” in 2015 for the Moscow Art Theater, whose present director, Oleg Tabakov, invited Mr. Rambert to stage his profitable play “Clôture de l’Amour” (“Love’s End”) for the troupe 5 years in the past. According to Mr. Rambert, “Actrice” was impressed by the Moscow theater’s actors — all of the characters have Russian names — however due to finances constraints, it has but to be carried out in Moscow.

Instead, it made its debut in French on the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, the place Mr. Rambert was appointed affiliate artist in January. This once-abandoned Parisian stage was given new life in 1974 by the British director Peter Brook, who declined to renovate it to protect its intimate, threadbare attract. Mr. Rambert’s stage design for “Actrice” enhances it fantastically: Dozens of bouquets cowl virtually your complete stage, surrounding a single hospital mattress.

Eugenia, the actress referred to within the title, is dying, and the flowers serve each as gestures acknowledging that reality and as a reminder of the bouquets she earned in her profession. Her mother and father maintain vigil by her mattress, and a number of characters from her previous take turns visiting, from stage colleagues to her estranged sister, Ksenia, who moved to Montenegro and have become a businesswoman.

“Actrice” could not have been written for the 2 ladies enjoying Eugenia and Ksenia on this French manufacturing, however it’s an ode to them. Marina Hands, a former member of the Comédie-Française troupe who has gone on to a profitable movie profession, is new to Mr. Rambert’s work, however she supplies a wistful heart of gravity for the play whereas many round her battle to deal with her terminal prognosis.

Even Ms. Hands faces an uphill battle when making an attempt to make Mr. Rambert’s strains sound pure, nevertheless. The solely actor who manages it persistently is the playwright and director’s longtime muse, Audrey Bonnet, within the position of Ksenia. Slim and pale, with sunken eyes that undertaking a looking out depth, Ms. Bonnet beforehand starred in Mr. Rambert’s “Clôture de l’Amour” (2011) and “Répétition” (2014). She navigates the textual content with a virtuoso, staccato supply that lends Mr. Rambert’s phrases a pointy edge.

The males fare much less nicely: The husbands of each sisters overegg their Russian accents, with Jakob Öhrman, because the boisterous Pavel, left to utter inanities together with, “The truth is in my alcoholism.”

The textual content is very descriptive all through, as Mr. Rambert artificially spells out particulars that overwhelm his sentences. There are vacuous pronouncements about artwork and dying, and exchanges that flirt with nationalism and non secular preachiness. “Why are you so cruel, life?” Ms. Bonnet cries plaintively time and again on the finish.

The line is so unsubtle that it grates; in French, a language not given to stating the apparent, Mr. Rambert’s wordiness stays an acquired style.

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