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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney
 Millennium Countdown on Eiffel Tower
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 Return to Paris After Four Decades
 Two Weeks in Another City
 No Nights at the Opéra Bastille
 Murder at the Opéra Ballet
 Théâtre du Soleil's "Drummers on the Dike"
 Sex & Violence at Comédie Française
 "Shoot 'em up" Offenbach "Perichole"
 Masks & Faces at Comédie Italienne
 English-Language Theatre in Paris
 "Godot" at Petit Hébertot
 Beethoven in Notre Dame
 Magnificent Millennium Manifestations
 Parisian Christmas
 Protests in the Streets
 Shooting Famous Dead Frenchmen
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How to contact Glenn Loney: Please email invitations and personal correspondences to Mr. Loney via Editor, New York Theatre Wire. Do not send faxes regarding such matters to The Everett Collection, which is only responsible for making Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-images available for commercial and editorial uses.
How to purchase rights to photos by Glenn Loney: For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.
For a selection of Glenn Loney's previous 1999 columns, click here.
MILLENNIUM COUNTDOWNConstructed as a temporary symbol of the Great Paris Exhibition, engineer Gustave Eiffel's imposing and intricate network of bolted iron elements soon became the Official Trademark of the City of Light.
ON THE EIFFEL TOWER!
That was easier than dismantling it after the World's Fair, as originally planned.
In 1999, however, it took on a little added weight. On the side facing the Palais de Chaillot, it supported a large electric sign. This numbered the days remaining until the Dawn of the New Millennium.
At the stroke of midnight on 31 December 1999, it burst into a rainbow of colorful fireworks to mark the New Era.
Towers of Sacre Couer Photo: copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
The Eternal Return—
ReSeeing Paris After Four DecadesIn 1956-57, I taught American soldiers and airmen Speech and English for the University of Maryland on US Military Bases in Eastern France. The landscape and the life were both incredibly depressing. Weekends I and my Volkswagen Beetle divided between French cities and our Heidelberg HQ.
Although I had gone through French 8 with top grades at UC/Berkeley, Parisians affected then—as now—not to understand a word. In Verdun, Nancy, and Bar-le-Duc, I had no language problems.
This rather soured me on Paris and its snobbish residents, so I had not returned for a real visit to the City of Light for over forty years when the American Theatre Critics decided to make a group foray into the world of Parisian Theatre and entertainment.
This was set for Thanksgiving Week—which the French of course do not celebrate, not owing thanks to anyone for anything. Especially not to Americans, who prevented them from winning World War II single-handedly. So that General Eisenhower—rather than General DeGaulle—could have all the glory.
I decided to extend my stay an additional week, to see more shows than we had planned. And to photograph the great Parisian monuments and new architecture for my INFOTOGRAPHY Photo ArtsArchive at the Everett Collection.
I have never counted the three days I was in Paris, in 1972, as a real tourist-style return to that metropolis. I was requested by my publisher and Peter Brook to bring him for approval the manuscript I had created for the Official RSC Production Book of his memorable Midsummer Night's Dream staging for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
And Pierre Cardin had invited me to visit his new theatre, the Espace Cardin, for an interview and report for AFTER DARK.
Actually, although Cardin had modernized the interior, his playhouse was the historic Théâtre des Ambassadeurs. He also made hotel and transport arrangements for me, as I had never had to enter Paris via Orly before. When Aerogare Charles DeGaulle opened, I was even more reluctant to try to get into the heart of Paris.
So I have effectively avoided Paris as a visitor since I worked in Eastern France long ago. Even then, I spent no more than three or four days at a time in Paris, preferring to tour the Loire Valley, Normandy, Brittany, and weekend on Mont San Michel.
Two Weeks in Another City—
I have never spent as much as two entire weeks in Paris. So the opportunity to spend a week visiting Parisian Theatres with the American Theatre Critics Association was one I could not miss—although I'd just spent two weeks in Ireland at the Dublin and Wexford Festivals. I've hardly been home at all this Fall.
INSIDE THE CLOCK--View of Louvre from Musée D'Orsay Clockface. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
It looked an ideal plan. I would be met at Charles DeGaulle by a driver holding a card with my name on it. He would then drive me directly to my hotel. But the Florida travel agency handling arrangements for ATCA called me at the last minute to say I should wait an hour or two for the rest of the New York Area contingent who were coming on a later flight. We'd all be driven to the hotel together.
I was through Customs at 6:30 am, finding no driver to meet me. I waited at the Customs gate until 10 am, but no fellow-critics appeared. Mel Gussow, of the NY Times did come through, but he was of course not part of our group. Times critics are not allowed to join such associations.
So I had to figure how to get into Paris—without paying a fortune for a taxi. My prepaid Limo Voucher was useless to me. I finally found the Roissybus, which deposited me at the old Opéra, the Palais Garnier. I had to drag my two suitcases to Galeries Lafayette to find a taxi. Two drivers refused to take my money. The Hotel Opéra Cadet, they said, was just down the Boulevard Lafayette.
I had no idea where Rue Cadet was, as it isn't on the tourist map, being only one narrow side-street block. Nor had the travel agency thought to give me a map of the area, as they assumed I'd be delivered to the door.
So I once more dragged my heavy cases down the boulevard, past two Hector Guimard Metro stops, always asking where the unknown street could be. One man shrugged: "I'm not from here. I'm from Lyon." [Je suis de Lyon. ]
Fortunately, at the Metro Cadet stop, I glimpsed my hotel—which I recommend to anyone coming to Paris. In an historic building in a secluded street—lined with food shops and market-stalls and no traffic—it is completely modern inside, with a gracious and caring staff. Singles are $150 per day, but for the two weeks—thanks to the travel agency's special rates—I paid rather less. It also provides a hearty breakfast with many choices.
[The Hotel Opera Cadet is located at 24 rue Cadet, 75009 Paris. It is certainly central. Phone: 011-33-1-5334-5050. FAX: 011-33-1-5334-5060. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org It's also on the Internet: http://www.hotel-opera-cadet.fr]
I found all my colleagues had arrived, as they flew TWA, not Air France, and thus came into a quite different terminal. So Carlson Wagon-Lits of Sarasota had given me really wrong instructions. We were now all in the same fix, however, for our rooms were not vacated until noon and not ready until 2 pm.
Many of the planned or hoped-for theatre adventures did not materialize, owing to typical Parisian indifference to accommodating even professional guests and to the incredible rudeness of some in official & tenured performing arts positions.
I must say, however, that the Directrice of Press at the Musée D'Orsay—the Belle Époque railroad station, now a wonderful museum of 19th century French Art—did receive me and make photos, slides, catalogues, and press-releases available. Though she kept pointing to her phone to indicate how busy she was. "It's ringing off the hook," she explained in English. Actually, it was calmer than she was.
I had of course brought editors' letters and copies of magazines and netscape printouts to show the kinds of articles and reports I write. At the Museum of Modern Art—where there is a fantastic, extensive, and brilliantly colorful Fauvist Exhibition—I asked for the Press Officer.
But they were so busy with the hordes of visitors that a lady at a small table just gave me a ticket of entrance to the museum and to the special show. I gave her the materials I'd brought for the Press Officer. Which I noticed—as I rushed ahead of the lines—she was eagerly sharing with her colleagues. But I never met the Press Officer at all.
No Nights at the Opera!At the terminally Post-Modernist Opéra Bastille, all of us professional journalists had to pay for a brief tour. And all performances of all productions were sold out.
I tried to contact the Press Directrice, returning several times to the Administration Offices Reception Desk. She was too busy to see me on three occasions, though she did acknowledge she'd received the copies of Theatre Crafts, Entertainment Design, Opera Monthly, and other publications I'd left for her.
At major European theatres, it is standard policy to hold back a few tickets for last-minute emergencies or VIPS. I told her—on the phone, which she also said was "ringing off the hook"—that I would be happy to pay for a single. These cost, when you can obtain one, about $150, but that's less than at the Met these days. And much less than at the newly rebuilt and reopened Covent Garden and certainly less than the Salzburg Festival.
She agreed—and I could hear her in animated conversations with colleagues in the background—to try to find a single for a Monday Bohème or a Tuesday Figaro.
I especially wanted to see the Figaro, as the sets—which we had just seen on the immense and endlessly deep stage—appeared to be of limitless interior perspective.
Paris has constructed a multi-billion-franc, state-of-the-art, computer-operated, machine-activated stage, partly to save money on stage-hands and production expenses. And then they commission tons of three-dimensional scenery of incredible complexity and cost to fill it. To give it, perhaps, A SENSE OF PURPOSE?
I went back to Place Bastille on both performance days—as she did not ring the hotel as promised. Nothing.
"You understand this is a very busy time for us! And you should have sent us a Fax from your editor." My various editors were out-of-town or not as interested in the Paris Opera as I am.
There was a special Avant-Premiere for the new Falstaff, featuring James Conlon, conductor of the Opéra's celebrated orchestra; the stage-director Dominique Pitoiset, and Jean-Philippe Lafont, who is interpreting Verdi's version of Shakespeare's Fat Knight.
I planned to attend this preview discussion—even though I obviously had no ticket for the premiere—for the session was free to the public. At least I'd get to experience some kind of program in the Opéra Bastille!
Unfortunately, it was at six pm. At 5:30 I was still photographing monuments in Père Lachaise Cemetery of such musical luminaries as Georges Bizet. And I had to be in a theatre on the other side of Paris by 7:30.
Maybe next time? I am surely going to revisit Paris annually from now on, but only a week at a time. Two weeks, especially before Noël is too much and too frantic.
Murder at the Opéra Ballet!I did get a $90 ticket for a Béjart Ballet at the old Paris Opéra, the famed Palais Garnier, which is shrouded in canvas, undergoing a complete exterior cleaning. As is still often the case with major Paris buildings and monuments. A number were closed for repairs, with no accurate date of reopening indicated.
In the mid-1950s, the lovely old opera-house was always my first port-of-call when I came to Paris on a weekend. This was the era of sumptuous productions like Les Indes Galantes.
Nicknamed the "Wedding-Cake" for its lavish external application of architectural and ornamental flourishes, Palais Garnier was one of Paris's most noted monuments, made even more so by the grand boulevards which radiated from its central position.
Currently obscured by cloth-covered scaffolding, it looks like a building-site. Inside, however, it is still very grand, especially its noble staircase. The Vienna State Opera is a study in decorative restraint in comparison.
Tourists can take the guided tour, or even guide themselves. Every aspect is photographic! Even if one is not able to get a ticket for a performance—the most rewarding way to experience this great theatre—the tour is not to be missed.
My good fortune was to purchase a ticket for the second performance of the new production of Maurice Béjart's ballet, Le Concours.
The concept of this interesting exercise in dance-theatre is that during a mass competition of young dancers, one of them, the lovely Ada [Aurélie Dupont], is murdered in the opera-house.
The dancers—and their teachers, patrons, or parents—represent a variety of types of young hopefuls and the older people behind their careers.
The young dancers are being judged by an international panel, representing some overworked national stereotypes: Russian, Japanese, French, and American.
The American lady-judge [Marie-Agnès Gillot] was especially annoying—a silly, over-dressed, talkative, interfering, egomaniacal noodge. But she proved a stylish, snappy dancer!
To the immense annoyance of the judges, the opera officials, and the dancers, a Police Inspector [Manuel Legris] arrives to question various suspects. Each of them has had some strong associations with Ada at some point in her brief life.
This narrative framework gives some older [former] dancers the opportunity to be on stage again, even demonstrating that they can still turn both a phrase and a leg.
Claude Bessy, Director of the Opéra's School of Dance, played—and danced—Miss Maud, once Ada's dance instructor. Fabrice Bourgeois. Assistant-Master of the Opéra Ballet, was the MC of the dance competition.
Other dancers central to the plot—and to the evening as a dance-event—included Muriel Hallé, Fanny Gaïda, Bertrand Belem, Christophe Duquenne, Yann Saïz, Lionel Delanoë, and Yann Bridard.
After the Inspector's confrontation with the actual killer, the competition concluded with a Grand Finale which seemed to fill the Garnier's historic stage with scores of dancers, young and old. The entire ballet school must have been on stage.
And—as I remembered from the 1950s—the upstage wall rose to reveal a seemingly infinite perspective of glittering chandeliers and grand Belle Époque chambers, echoing those in the foyers of the Opéra.
These are not scenic constructions, but actual elegant chambers behind the main stage and its extensions.
When you are next in Paris—or if you've never been there, do plan to visit soon—do not neglect a daytime exploration of this amazing old theatre. And make a major effort to see either a ballet or an opera—it's still used for both—on its great stage and in its magnificent auditorium.
Drummers on the Dike—
Mnouchkine at the Cartoucherie!
Paris loves innovative theatre directors. Robert Wilson—who stood two feet away from me on the Metro one evening—is a great favorite.
THEATRE DU SOLEIL--Ariane Mnouchkine's New "Drummers on the Dike." Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
Some of Peter Brook's greatest theatre achievements have been developed in Paris, first at the Gobelins and currently at the Bouffes du Nord.
But surely the greatest favorite is the dynamic Ariane Mnouchkine. With her Théâtre du Soleil, a dedicated international collective of actors, she "occupied" a former Army Caserne where rifle ammunition was once made.
This is the Cartoucherie. One of its large halls currently contains two Mnouchkine theatre-spaces, with a large area between them for eating and schmoozing.
It is a feature of Mnouchkine theatre-adventures that there will be food—keyed to the production—for the audience before, after, and during intermissions. This is served by members of the ensemble.
It's often prepared by Mnouchkine, and she certainly helps tidy up afterward and even wash the dishes. You won't catch Peter Brook or Robert Wilson doing that!
For her new production, Tambours sur la Digue, egg-rolls and other items of Chinese cuisine are available in generous servings. Written by Hélène Cixous, the title can be translated as Drums—or Drummers—on the Dike.
As Mnouchkine told our group of American theatre critics—and an eager delegation of theatre-students from Amiens—the drama is based on an actual event in China.
Chinese authorities, building new great dams, have heedlessly flooded entire valleys and villages, with no regard for the people living there.
In this piece, a peasant rallies friends to warn their people of an impending flood with frantic drumming on the dike. It recalls the deaf-mute Katrin's drumming in Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, also to save a town from destruction.
Immediately under the title on both programs and flyers, is this explanation: "In the form of an ancient play for marionettes, played by actors."
What is especially astonishing as the action gets underway is that—although the story is Chinese and the costumes constantly remind spectators of that fact—it is told in the style of Japanese Puppet-Theatre, the ancient and ritually rigid Bunraku.
The actors in the play are moved like life-sized puppets by "invisible" black-clad handlers. This creates an amazing resonance in performance, as the handlers respond to the emotions and actions of their respective "puppets."
Mnouchkine explained that she made no attempt to recreate Bunraku in every detail. That would have taken years, for the traditional training for a manipulator of a right-hand of a Bunraku puppet requires years.
The company did not begin with the idea of telling Cixous' affecting Chinese tale with Japanese techniques. That developed during rehearsals.
[Years ago, Michael Meschke, of the Stockholm Marionette Theatre, was the first in the West to adapt Bunraku techniques successfully. For a classic Greek tragedy, he reversed the color-code, cladding all the handlers in white, with the gods & humans in black.]
Much of the action of Drummers takes place on a raised square, a section of the dike made of great wooden beams. It overlooks a symbolic river below.
Behind this, a series of filmy silky backcloths shimmer and drop out of sight, suggesting different times of day or changing weather and emotions.
The drumming itself—like the pounding Japanese Kodo Drums which have become internationally known in concert—is all too brief. But it's dramatically effective.
The entire drama is greatly enhanced and nuanced by the music of Jean-Jacques Lemêtre, who wonderfully plays a wide variety of exotic instruments at the side of the raised stage.
At the unforgettable climax of the drama, the wooden platform on the top of the dike bulwark begins to sink under the rising waters of the flooding river.
As this stage disappears below the flood, the black-garbed puppet-handlers throw small puppets—representing all the characters the audience has just seen—into the turbulent waters to drown!
This is a striking visual effect, but it's obviously not ideal for touring. In fact, it seems permanently at home at the Cartoucherie.
Not so! Mnouchkine told me that it is promised for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM. Her Théâtre du Soleil had a great success there with Les Atrides, their version of the Oresteia.
That was performed in a large Armory—where her actors could also live adjacent to the stage, observed by the more curious in the audience.
She told our group that this Armory is no longer available, but Drummers on the Dike clearly needs such an open space. BAM's Majestic—now the Harvey Lichtenstein Theatre—has a proscenium-arch which could be unfriendly to the effect of this production.
At the Cartoucherie, the actors still have a special section for relaxing, costuming, and making-up. As they did in Brooklyn almost ten years ago.
But then they were supposedly living together as a collective in their theatre-space. I asked her how this communal life-style worked now.
Mnouchkine smiled and said that the ensemble did not now live at the Cartoucherie. "I assure you that they go home to their beds."
Another Dream of Collective Art & Living shattered!
The Théâtre du Soleil company is currently alternating another play by Hélène Cixous—Et soudain des nuits d'eveil—with Drummers on the Dike.
I was surprised to see Gérard Mortier, Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival, eagerly following the action of Drummers the night we attended.
Did that mean we could also expect to see this impressive production in Salzburg? Perhaps in the Hallein Salt-Mine Halls—which have welcomed Andrzej Serban, Robert Lepage, Luca Ronconi, and other ardent avant-gardists?
"No," Mnouchkine said. "We won't go to Salzburg. You know Gérard is leaving as festival director in 2002. He's a very old friend. That's why he was here tonight."
[By a most curious coincidence, the very next morning I read of the appointment of his Salzburg successor in Figaro.
[After an exhaustive search, with some 15 outstanding candidates for that prestigious post—including Brian McMaster, current head of the Edinburgh Festival—the committee chose Peter Ruzicka.
[Though not well known outside Germany, Ruzika is currently Director of the Bavarian Theatre Academy, as well as Artistic Director of the Munich Biennale, a festival of extremely modern music. He has also been conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio-Symphony.]
The Théâtre du Soleil is not the only theatre-ensemble in residence in the barrack-like buildings of the Cartoucherie. Other troupes are also mounting interesting work—but not like Mnouchkine's.
Even a daytime visit to the Cartoucherie caserne can be interesting. It is very near the historic Fort and Chateau of Vincennes, both well worth a visit. In fact, the Metro station is called Chateau de Vincennes.
The theatre is reached via a local bus  at the Metro station, stopping at Cartoucherie. Before and after performances, there's also a special Théâtre du Soleil navette to make sure spectators aren't stranded in unfamiliar territory.
Although the name suggests a small boat, it's actually a bus belonging to the theatre.
For more information, you can call the theatre: 011-33-1-43-74 24 08.
Sex & Violence
At the Comédie-Française—
Molière Would Have Been AstonishedThe last time I saw the Comédie-Française on stage was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the 1980s. And at Brooklyn College, where, thanks to BAM's Harvey Lichtenstein, I'd been able to invite the Sociètaires to show our drama students how they managed to play Molière's classic comedies in the wigs and costumes of the 17th century.
Things have obviously changed somewhat on this venerable stage. If not in its handsome and historic auditorium and foyers.
The Master's famous Chair—in which, dying, Molière played his last part—is still sitting in its clear case in a corner of the ornate buffet salon. It looks so old, dirty, ratty, and seedy, one wonders that someone has not dared to "restore" it by now.
What a tragic irony that France's greatest comedic playwright was playing his Imaginary Invalid that fatal night long ago. His illness was anything but imaginary.
Dying at a time when actors were still despised by the Catholic Church and customarily denied the last rites—as well as burial in holy ground—Molière has long been enshrined in this great theatre.
And, when the new cemetery of Père Lachaise was created, both he and the beloved fabulist Lafontaine were honored with elevated sarcophagai in the heart of the burial ground.
The problem for some modern critics has not been with whether his bones are actually in that tomb, but whether he has been buried alive on his own stage.
Over the years, the Comédie has certainly had its ups and downs. It enjoyed a period of renewal and rediscovery under Jacques Charon.
Currently—at least on the very brief exposure I had—it is mindful of its historic role as both the House of Molière and a National Theatre dedicated to French and modern classics.
Even exceeding the frills and furbelows of court dress of the era of Louis XIV, the costumes of the double-bill of Molière comedies I saw gloried in their excess.
But the comedies were staged with such energy—even violence—that the conventional plot issues took on an almost modern edge.
Thierry Hancisse staged and designed L'École de maris, or School for Husbands. Courtly manners—and even the former almost courtly style of playing Molière at the Comédie—have been replaced by a vigor and directness that is astonishing.
Although this was the 1601th performance of the play at this theatre, it could have been a new script with no venerable production tradition. And just as well—except for the tawdry scumbled standing flats which passed for abstract scenery.
Andrzej Seweryn's staging of the Molière companion-piece, Le Mariage forcé, was more playful and restrained—but not by much. It could have been the work of another Andrzej— Andrzej Serban.
It has the modernist touch of being set in motion by a small child, dragging a ship on wheels. This tot finds Sganarelle sleeping on the stage and prods him to put on his 17th century finery.
This plot is as old as Aristophanes and Plautus. In fact, this was the 1265th performance of Molière's version.
Sganarelle thinks it's time to get married, but he is really much to old for a spirited young bride. He seeks advice but doesn't listen.
Suddenly, he fell down. And so did the curtain, quickly.
One of the grotesque "Egyptian ladies" came forward to beg our indulgence. There was a fraught pause.
Everyone knows that "The Show Must Go On!"
After some minutes, the actress appeared again. One of the actors was ill, she said. We should all go home and come back another day to see the complete play.
I returned to the box-office the next morning. I could have got a ticket for Shaw's Heartbreak House that evening, but I thought I was to go again to the Cartoucherie that night.
So I settled for a repeat of the double-bill on Saturday. I enjoyed School for Husbands much more the second time round.
And we got all the way through The Forced Marriage this time as well. But, at the curtain-call, Sganarelle had removed his elegant wig. A streak of blood was apparent on his right cheek.
Playing comedy has always been more difficult than tragedy, but that doesn't mean the actors should become casualties.
Before Noël, the Comédie was also playing Gogol's Inspector General, Hofmannsthal's The Incorruptible, and Molière's School for Wives—as well as Shaw's La Maison des coeurs brisés.
Isn't it about time to see them again at BAM?
Offenbach's La Perichole—
Jérôme Savary's "Shoot-em-Up"
At TNP's Théâtre National de Chaillot
Jérôme Savary made his avant-garde directorial reputation with his Grand Magic Circus. He gave clowns, magicians, acrobats, bareback riders, and high-wire artistes a new life in the theatre. And he gave some plays and operettas a new life as well.
"PERICHOLE" AT CHAILLOT--Jerome Savary Savages Jacques Offenbach. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
Among his most notable successes were his monumental Bregenz Festival lake-stage productions of Mozart's Magic Flute and Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann. The latter featured an immense mechanical doll which self-destructed.
The New Year will bring to a close his current production at the late great Jean Vilar's Théâtre National Populaire. He has staged Offenbach's La Perichole, not as a period operetta in Vice-regal Peru, but as a free-for-all in a Banana Republic.
This doesn't work, for the style and elegance of the original are lost, while the passion and fire are reduced to shooting and carousing.
The central stage-element is a great set of steps, variously adapted. The locale could be any dusty village in Central Mexico or Colombia.
Savary has subtitled his innovation: la chanteuse et le dictateur. His dictator behaves like a small-time gangster. No Fidel Castro this guy!
In a program note, Savary explains in part his decision to modernize Offenbach. The theatre cannot pay or accommodate a large operetta orchestra.
So he and his accomplice, Gérard Daguerre, have turned Perichole into "a musical comedy of today, with a little combo of musicians who swingent."
Savary notes—with some imagination—that Offenbach in fact was "un grand swingeur."
The real problem is not Swinging Offenbach or moving the action from 18th century Peru to modern San Miguel Allende.
It's quite simply that the staging is a chaotic mess. Rather like an overblown amateur production out of control. The dances are uninspired and routine. And the singing is often embarrassing.
At the same time, the Chaillot was also showing Daniel Soulier's holiday spectacle—adapted from Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows—called Le Vent dans les saules.
Also on view was Les Belles Endormies du bord de scène.
These three shows are to be followed by Georges Feydeau's La Main passe, Jean-Marie Ladavetine's Le Voyage au Luxembourg—with Miou Miou, and August Strindberg's Le Songe, staged by Robert Wilson.
From March to May, Bruno Besson's staging of Carlo Gozzi's King Stag will be offered, with Savary returning to mount the quintessentially Parisian musical, Irma la douce, for a late spring run.
Irma was one of Peter Brook's greatest London and Broadway commercial hits. Too bad the Chaillot couldn't get him to revisit this work—in the light of his more recent theatre experiments in Paris!
At the Comédie Italienne—
Masks and Faces on Parade:
Goldoni's Ces Dames Pointilleuses
There was a time when the Italian Commedia dell'Arte was known all over Western Europe. The standard in Court Theatres, West and East, was customarily Italian Opera and Italian Comedy.
GOLDONI GOES BAROQUE--Commedia dell'Arte at Comédie Italianne. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
Native authors and poets north of the Alps had to confect plots with Commedia stereotypes such as Arlechino, Pantalone, and Dottore.
In 17th century Paris, the Italian actors even had their own theatre. Molière learned much about comedic devices and plots from their plays.
Over time, however, native playwrights and librettists were able to replace the Italian pieces with their own. In Paris, the Théâtre Italien became a memory only.
In 1974, Attilio Maggiulli—a student and disciple of Milan's Giorgio Strehler—brought a form of that theatre back to life, founding his Comédie Italienne. Today, that theatre and its ensemble is thriving in Montparnasse.
In a narrow street—at 17-19 rue de la Gaïté—crowded with little theatres and night-spots, the brightly painted facade of the Italian Comedy stands out.
For each new production of a Commedia classic, Maggiulli repaints both the exterior and the auditorium with images relevant to the characters and story of the current play.
He tells the group of American theatre critics that the building is Landmarked and cannot be altered. But the amused local authorities come by each time there's a new show to see what he has "done this time."
Inside the small hallway-foyer, the walls are painted with colorful masks and faces of the Italian Baroque. On wig-stands, elaborate wigs, masks, and headdresses are displayed. Some of these will be later seen on stage.
The walls of the small auditorium are also a lively tribute to the Commedia, its stock characters, traditional costumes, and elemental production devices. They offer strong visual competition to Maggiulli's lively players.
This is the Renaissance form of theatre which gave us the word Slapstick. Comic beatings are administered with a hinged paddle, one blade of which makes a smacking sound without injuring the actor-victim.
All performances are in French, and Magguilli insists that he has in fact developed a distinctive variety of the Italian Comedy in his intimate theatre. Fortunately, he also has a school for performers who want to work in the genre.
This has made it possible for him to produce his new mounting of the old Goldoni classic, Le femmine puntigliosi. He trained the Harlequin he needed for this play.
This new production is a tribute to the late Giorgio Strehler—who told Maggiulli shortly before his death that he regretted never having staged this comedy—which requires a young Arlechino to die on stage. Strehler's famed Arlechino actor was far too old.
In French, the satire is offered as Ces Dames pointilleuses, and it features Maggiulli's co-founder and partner, the lovely and talented Hélène Lestrade as Rosaura.
It is played with great charm, style, and bravura—at a ferocious pace. If you plan to see it soon in Paris, read a plot-summary first, so swiftly flows the French. Of course, owing to its formulaic construction and the wonderful gestural dynamics of the actors, you can follow much of the story visually.
Pardon My [Lack of] French—
English-Language Theatre in Paris!
With seeming scores of Parisian theatres—large and small—presenting new French and foreign plays, as well as the classics, it may seem odd that our group of American critics all turned out for the meeting with actors, directors, designers, and producers who are providing Parisians with theatre in English.
ENGLISH THEATRE IN THE REAR--Main Playhouse of Théâtre Hébertot, which offers plays in English in its intimate theatre behind the big house. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
This was made possible by Marie Kilker, an ATCA drama critic from Sarasota, Florida, who organized most of our theatre-events. Without her initiative, there would have been no trip at all. And, without her knowledge of Parisian theatre, most of us would have been at a loss to know what to see and do.
She may well have also done a good turn for the English-language theatre people. Interestingly enough, this was the first time most of them had been in the same room together to talk about their work.
At present, there is no umbrella-group or Off-off Alliance to help them lobby for valuable government recognition and sorely needed subsidies.
I had the sense that some of them had outsized egos which would prevent them from cooperating with groups they regarded as amateur or inferior. One or two candidly admitted that they had come to Paris to make theatre for they saw no opportunity at home.
Although the government—at local, regional, and national levels—seems to be strewing cultural subsidies around with an open hand, English-language theatre isn't a beneficiary.
This isn't rampant Anti-Americanism, for many of these talents are in fact not American. Most seemed primarily interested in putting on plays, not in promoting their productions.
There didn't seem to be a professionally-trained Performing Arts Manager among them. This situation could be easily improved if various groups were to invite grad-level American and British arts management students to intern for credit for six months or a year.
In response to some of the complaints about not obtaining recognition and financial support, I noted the success of English-language theatres in Vienna and Scandinavia.
The first of these—which are now to be found in a number of major European cities—was Vienna's English Theatre, co-founded by an Austrian director and a young woman from Brooklyn, no less!
Initially, they planned to provide dynamic productions of new plays for English-speaking tourists. For theatre-lovers who couldn't understand a word of German but wanted a theatre-experience in the Austrian capital.
Obviously, this is just the kind of tourist-friendly cultural project Ministries of Tourism should fund.
But so good were their productions—each often with a well-known British or American actor or actress—that mature Viennese were coming to the theatre as well.
To see popular new plays which would never be done in German at the venerable Burg-Theater—and to improve their own English pronunciation!
College and high-school students were the next to come—often in class-groups—primarily to perfect their English, but also to learn about other ways of life than the Viennese.
Obviously, these are aims which deserve support from Ministries of Education and Culture. Whether the English-Language Ensembles in Paris can convince the relevant French Ministries to follow the lead of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden is quite a different matter.
In Vienna, its premiere English Theatre gave both Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee European premieres of plays either unseen or despised in America.
That could also happen in Paris. In a big way. Some new American and British plays have surely had world premieres in Paris in French.
But in English? If no one will produce them at home, why not atonish Paris?
Such events have to be publicized, put in focus. Otherwise it's the old story of the alarm-clock going off on a distant mountain. Or the tree falling far way in a forest, unheard.
Among the groups which thoughtfully brought brochures to our meeting was the Compagnie ACT. Based in Paris, it is often on tour, including trips to Reims and Lisieux.
Its current rep includes Sinbad the Sailor, a holiday pantomime; Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, and a puppet-version of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.
The Glasshouse Theatre Company has recently presented Vita & Virginia, The Queens, and Picasso's Women. It is planning a European tour of Robert David MacDonald's Summit Conference, long ago premiered at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow.
In May, the Four Corners Company will produce Arthur Miller's The Creation of the World and Other Business.
Other groups represented at the conference included Compagnie OZ, Horla Compagnie, Yoyo Productions, and Dear Conjunction.
An especially interesting talent at the meeting was Ms. Anna Stramese, who taught theatre ten years at USC before leaving academe for the City of Light. She not only stages play-readings at the famed Café Flore, but she has also developed theatre-courses in Parisian technical schools which ordinarily have no time for cultural studies.
Waiting for GodotAlain Julien, of the Théâter Hébertot, has been especially encouraging of English-language theatre in Paris. While the main theatre on the Boulevard des Batignolles features popular boulevard comedies, its smaller and separate stage in a tiny street behind the big theatre has opened its doors and stage to such English-language fare as Cynthia Heimel's A Girl's Guide To Chaos and Sam Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Englished at the Petit Hébertot
Parisians all last fall could also drop in on a staging of Jack Neary's La Soeur de Jerry King, in French.
Having seen all too many Godots—including ones with Bert Lahr, Robin Williams, and John Turturro—I was reluctant to watch another.
I thought I should be watching French plays in French on some famous Parisian stages, until I noticed from the listings the superfluity of British and American plays in French.
Without Nicole Kidman, why see David Hare's The Blue Room in French. An Alan Ayckbourn black farce? Or another Harold Pinter drama?
Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends, just opening in New York, was already on view in Paris—but in French. And Boeing Boeing seemed set to run forever.
I must say, however, that I was very pleased—even moved—by the Godot on the small stage of the Petit Hébertot. Even the sole set-prop, that infamous dead tree, had a stylish and distinctive geometric design.
Great Music in a Great Cathedral—
Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in Notre DameA week before the grand holiday concert in Notre Dame Cathedral I could have purchased a ticket for less than $10. But I was expecting to go again to Ariane Mnouchkine's Cartoucherie venue for her other production on that night.
That ticket did not materialize, though I waited at the hotel for a message until 6 pm. The concert—the high point of a month-long festival of Sacred Art, sponsored by the Mayor's office—was set for 8 pm.
Notre Dame is an immense medieval cathedral. It can accommodate hundreds, so I thought there would be no problem about getting standing-room at the last minute.
Wrong! I arrived an hour before in a misting rain with no umbrella. There was already a crowd of more than a hundred.
I looked for the ticket-table, but there was none. Only two surly young Frenchmen at the cathedral gate, grudgingly admitting ticket-holders.
I showed my various press-passes—which gained me instant free admission to the Louvre and every other museum and monument in Paris. The youthful guardians laughed at me.
The concert was sold-out. No standing-room was permitted by the authorities.
Gradually, those who didn't pay scalpers' prices for the few tickets on offer from bystanders drifted off.
A new guardian stood at the gate. I showed my pass, explaining that I could have bought a ticket a week before, but was waiting for the possibility of a trip to the Théâtre du Solieil.
He scoffed at me: "So, it is purely random that you have come here. With nothing else to do?"
"So, if you are so eager to see this performance, who is the conductor?"
I had not made a point of noting his name—which would have been difficult in any case as it was Philippe Herreweghe, who got his start in Ghent.
"So you have no idea who is conducting. You have just come along at random!"
He strode inside, leaving me standing—almost alone—in the rain. I pressed my face against the ancient bars of the cathedral gates.
Straining, I could faintly hear the Orchestra of the Champs-Élysées and the combined choruses of the RIAS Kammerchor, La Chappelle Royale, and the Collegium Vocale de Gand
After a while, the first young guard came out and called for "Mr. Glenn!" He had taken pity on me, after enjoying my disappointment and discomfort.
He indicated that I should stand in back in the shadows. But there were scores of empty seats up front, flanking the altar.
The audience was seated in the vast nave—and it was indeed packed. So I took an empty chair in the transept, looking almost directly at the conductor.
Periodically, the intense colors of the immense Southern Rose Window opposite my chair would come vibrantly alive in the darkness.
Outside, one of the many Bateaux Mouches was gliding by on the Seine beside Notre Dame. They cast their super-powered halogen searchlights on the historic facades along the river.
In that great sonorous space, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was a magnificently moving experience. The splendid soloists were Valdine Anderson, Martin Snell, Annette Markert, and Piotr Beczala.
And, yes, Philippe Herreweghe proved a very impressive conductor. He is a specialist in choral music of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classic periods. With many recordings to his credit.
My Belgian critic-friend, Erna Metdepennighen, was just here in Manhattan to see The Great Gatsby at the Met. She's from Ghent and she assures me of Herreweghe's talents and achievements.
She also says that the Press Directrice at the Opéra Bastille is really a very nice, friendly, and helpful person. That I have yet to discover.
Magnificent Millennium Manifestations!Future returns to Paris for me won't be anything like the fabulous preparations for the Millennium this winter. An immense illuminated Carousel was set up on the Place de la Concorde—between the Tuilieries Gardens and the lower end of the Champs Élysées.
Like London's Millennium Ferris Wheel—and Vienna's "Third Man" Riesen-Rad—it featured compartments for sight-seers, lifting them high over the central city. It loomed even larger at night, colorfully visible from far away—thanks to the German technology of Siemens.
But it also serves as an illuminated clock, counting down the seconds to l January 2000.
On 31 December, along the length of the Champs Élysées—between the ancient Obelisk and the Arch of Triumph—eleven smaller carousels will be set up parallel to the grand avenue. All twelve are symbolic "Doors to the Year 2000."
Each has been conceived by a noted artist, architect, or scenic-designer. They are designed in various styles to reflect important themes, events, and concerns of the recent past, the present, and the future. These are not entertainment-rides, but revolving art-works
The designs—reproduced before the holidays in a special supplement of Liberation—are so fascinating, it would almost be worth abandoning a Manhattan New Year's Eve to be again in Paris and see these wonders.
Surrounded on the avenue, of course, by dancers and street-theatre shows echoing the various themes. And by revelers in general.
At midnight, the Eiffel Tower will seem to explode with fantastic fireworks as well.
All over France, in cities and towns, at the same midnight moment, great symbolic portals to the New Century and Millennium will be festively opened.
The entire Year 2000 is already programmed for nation-wide special events and celebrations. One permanent manifestation was begun in November and will continue through the year.
This is the Green Meridian, a natural memorial to delight all Environmentalists.
It will consist of six-hundred miles of living trees, planted along the Paris Meridian of Longitude.
This stretches from Dunkerque on the North Sea to Prats-de-Molino in the Pyrénées. The tree-line will be extended across the Spanish border, through Catalonian Barcelona, where the Meridian runs into the Mediterranean.
In early summer, the fields flanking the trees will be planted with poppies and clover.
And on Bastille Day, 14 July, the World's Biggest Picnic will be held along the Green Meridian. The 337 French cities and towns along the line of trees will be welcoming visitors from all over the world.
Shortly before that event, however, Paris will be celebrating the Summer Solstice—21 June, St. John's Day, Midsummer's Eve—with what should be the world's largest and longest dance and music festival. It's called Périphérock.
The 20-mile traffic beltway—or Pérephérique—around Paris will be closed for the entire night so everyone can dance to bands from all over the world!
Highways around major French cities will also be closed for dancing on this night. Those towns and villages without beltways will make do with town-squares and sections of local highway.
Paris especially, but all of France, have prepared an astonishing variety of such events to greet and celebrate this great new year—fraught with promise, potential, and possible disasters.
More Than Just 12 Days of Parisian Christmas!Traditionally, the celebration of the Birth of the Holy Infant has been largely confined to Parisian churches and homes.
But American-style Christmas commercialism seems to have made some inroads. Including shop-windows featuring those partridges in pear-trees for the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Many boulevards have elaborate decorations and lights overhead. Even some small side-streets have their own decors. Frosted Christmas trees are massed in front of the Panthéon.
There are more animated holiday windows at Galeries Lafayette than at Saks and Lord & Taylor combined. The animated windows at Printemps, however, are far more clever.
There are Christ-Child Market stalls in many public places, including the forecourt of the imposing Arche du Défense, with its offices inside the great Post-Modernist arch.
Even if Noël is usually a family affair in France, other American festivities like Halloween are also catching on. On 31 October, the River Seine was filled with bobbing jack-o-lanterns, with smiling faces and candles inside!
For the December holidays, all the Seine bridges were brilliantly illuminated.
From July until the end of December, Paris has also provided Phileas Fogg-style ascensions in the World's Largest Balloon.
You don't go around the world in 80 days, but you do get a remarkable view of Paris from the air. Higher than either the Arc de Triomphe or the Tour Eiffel!
Manifestations of Another Kind—
French Workers & Farmers on the March!
A day did not pass without some major "Social Demonstration" or Manifestation. One day, the Boulevard Lafayette was crammed for hours with marchers from every bank in France—organized by region and city—to protest possible loss of pay or jobs with the newly proposed reduction of the 39-hour work-week to 35 hours. Ostensibly this has been devised to provide more jobs for the already over-protected "work" force.
FREEZE THE ACCOUNTS!--Bank-Workers from all over France in Protest March up Boulevard Lafayette. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
At every restaurant, from the least pretentious to even the lovely Le Train Bleu—a remarkably ornamented Belle Époque station-buffet at the Gare de Lyon—the meat was tough.
As irate French farmers had just marched their cows to the Arc de Triomphe to protest potential cuts in Farm Subsidies, imports of British Beef, and The European Union in general, it was understandable that the beef could no longer be tender.
TV monitors in all Metro stations were teeming with advisories on which stations to avoid because of these constant protests. It's wonder the cows get milked at all. Or any work gets done in offices.
There are so many subsidies and safety-net guarantees, it's no surprise to find your restaurant bill swollen with a 21.5% tax and a 17.5% service-charge. At these rates, there's certainly no need to leave even the smallest tip.
But all those great Public Buildings and Monuments also have to be maintained, often at great cost. The revolutionary Centre Pompidou—hailed at its opening for the avant-garde design idea of putting all its life-support systems on the outside of the building—is currently undergoing a massive external rehab.
The architects miscalculated on the strength and durability of their materials, as usual. That did not prevent the design from winning all sorts of awards, naturally. Who knew it would begin to deteriorate so rapidly?
To Americans, accustomed to the smallest of subsidies for the arts—when subventions are not being verbally attacked by politicians, playing the snob-card for the voters—it is amazing to see how much money the French government showers onto performing arts ensembles, theatres, museums, art-galleries, public entertainments, and other cultural manifestations.
I did see Foucault's famed Pendulum in the noble Panthéon, but it was blocked off by an exhibition of drawings of pathetic children from Soweto.
The eagerness of Parisians to make common cause with the Miserable of the Earth is amazing, considering their apparent lack of affection for those of the Third World who have managed to get themselves to Paris and on welfare.
But that is part of the price to be paid by former Colonial Powers: The formerly Exploited come "home" to Paris—and London—to roost.
Despite the apparent rise in Anti-Americanism, the French, especially the young, continue to inject Americanisms into their culture, cuisine, couture, and conversation. Even old women in the Metro on Fridays were wishing each other a "Bonne Week-End."
Trendy American slang and styles are everywhere. But America is increasingly resented because, it's said, we are so Powerful, Arrogant, and Ignorant. No one beats the French in the Arrogance Sweepstakes.
Photographing the Famous Dead—
Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time. I spent two overcast and rainy days—it was late November & early December after all—in Père Lachaise Cemetery, photographing monuments of the famous. And I still need another day to complete my list of Big Names.
CARRYING THE TORCH--This copy of Liberty's Torch—over the tunnel where she died—has become the Unofficial Shrine of Princess Di.
Someone had stuck a torn cardboard on Jim Morrison's grave: "Jim! Let me light your fire! Russ."
I also photographed Delacroix, Corot, Bizet, Colette, and Sarah Bernhardt, as well as Oscar Wilde and many, many others.
I moved a plastic bouquet covering the names of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, replacing it after the photo. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre's tombstone in Montparnasse Cemetery was not burdened with flowers, however. And I found Fernandel in Passy Cemetery, along with other famed performers.
I also photographed famous theaters, such as the Comédie Française and the Opéra Comique. Even Peter Brook's tacky little Bouffes du Nord, where Peter was opening his new production, Costume, the day after I left for New York.
Ute Lemper opened at the Opéra Comique the night I was packing to leave. It was, of course, sold-out, as she's great favorite with her Piaf and Dietrich interpretations. Not to mention that naked and pregnant fashion-promenade appearance in Robert Altman's fashion-film, Prèt à Porter. Fortunately, I'd already seen Lemper in this show at the Edinburgh Festival and interviewed her there.
Now that I've figured out how to get into the heart of downtown Paris from DeGaulle—and found an excellent hotel, as well—I've decided to get over my 43-year avoidance of Paris.
That came about apparently because—in another life—I was beheaded in the French Revolution. My mother's strange old psychic chum, Marion Ruth Glen, told me this when I was about six years old. It must have lodged in my subconscious.
Can such things be?
Miss Glen had been to Mars in a Flying Saucer.
And she knew a woman who had received a telegraph message—via a disconnected telegraph-key—from Abraham Lincoln—who was living on Venus in a Scientific Clubhouse.
Napoleon Bonaparte may be the Man in the Moon! [Loney]
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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