Free of Protesters, Paris Theaters Reopen With Little Imagination

PARIS — When the Odéon Theater reopened to audiences right here with a staging of “The Glass Menagerie” on the finish of May, its acquainted columns seemed considerably bare. For two-and-a-half months, that they had been adorned with giant protest indicators made by the humanities employees occupying the theater. Shortly earlier than they left, one signal learn: “Reopening: The Great Comedy.”

Inside occupied theaters round France, the state of affairs grew more and more tense in May after the federal government introduced plans to permit performances to renew. On the one hand, a key purpose of the protesters — the return of cultural life — was met. On the opposite, the occupations had morphed by then into a bigger social motion with calls for past the humanities, together with the withdrawal of coming adjustments to unemployment advantages.

That set protesters on a collision course with annoyed theater directors. Yet as quick as that they had unfold in early March, the occupations stopped. Students on the Colline and T2G theaters left throughout the first week of June, whereas some elsewhere have been pressured out. The Odéon’s occupiers moved to a friendlier Paris venue, the Centquatre.

While watching “The Glass Menagerie,” although, it was exhausting to neglect them. The Odéon didn’t assist its case by reopening with a prepandemic, star-led manufacturing that felt worlds away from all the pieces that has occurred over the previous yr.

With the outstanding director Ivo van Hove within the driver’s seat, “The Glass Menagerie” premiered shortly earlier than the primary French lockdown in March 2020. Its essential promoting level was the presence of Isabelle Huppert, taking the position of Amanda Wingfield, the previous Southern belle teetering on the sting of actuality, for the primary time.

Huppert with Justine Bachelet as her daughter in “The Glass Menagerie.”Credit…Jan Versweyveld

It was a piece in progress after I noticed it then, nevertheless it now appears to be like as aimless as Amanda herself. The drab units, by Jan Versweyveld, lure the forged inside brown partitions adorned with the silhouette of Mr. Wingfield, Amanda’s absent husband, who deserted the household years earlier than.

The play’s characters are appropriately depressing in that décor, but the actors typically look like taking part in from totally different scores, partly as a result of Huppert is an idiosyncratic stage presence as of late. As Amanda, she is stressed, even humorous, as she repeatedly makes an attempt to maintain her son, Tom, from leaving by clinging to his legs. Van Hove feeds her over-the-top moments, together with a scene through which she seems to masturbate on the kitchen counter whereas reminiscing about her youth.

Yet the efficiency typically makes the manufacturing appear overly acutely aware of her aura, of her sheer Huppert-ness, to the purpose that her companions modify to her power when she is onstage.

The greatest scenes truly come when Laura, Amanda’s fragile daughter, is left alone with Jim, her previous high-school crush. Cyril Gueï makes a form, mild Jim, and van Hove’s alternative of a Black actor for the position reinforces the racial dynamics implicit in Amanda’s rose-tinted imaginative and prescient of the Old South. Gueï’s reference to Justine Bachelet’s Laura is real sufficient that for a second, a contented denouement appears inside attain.

Laura, performed as touchingly muted by Bachelet, briefly comes alive earlier than resigning herself. Van Hove has given her a basic French music to sing as she offers Jim her glass unicorn as an adieu: Barbara’s 1970 “L’Aigle Noir” (“The Black Eagle”), a few traumatic childhood reminiscence that feels precisely proper for Laura’s character.

While capability remained restricted till this week to 35 p.c of seats, a quantity of different theaters right here rushed to reopen as quickly because it grew to become potential. At the tiny À La Folie Theater, the actress and director Laetitia Lebacq debuted a uncommon manufacturing of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 play, “The Respectful Whore,” which is ready, like “The Glass Menagerie,” within the American South.

Laetitia Lebacq and Bertrand Skol in “The Respectful Whore,” directed by Lebacq on the tiny À La Folie Theater.Credit…Instant en droop

While Sartre wrote a quantity of performs, they’ve principally fallen out of style on the French stage. It’s a disgrace, as a result of “The Respectful Whore,” whereas often over-explanatory, units up its central battle in a compact, environment friendly method. It takes place solely on the residence of a prostitute, Lizzie, who’s caught up in a case of blatant racial discrimination. Two Black males are accused of raping her as a means of exculpating the white son of a senator, who shot one of them.

Lizzie herself is overtly racist, but refuses to falsely testify that she was raped — till the senator and his son pressure her hand. Lebacq navigates the position of Lizzie with out smoothing over her contradictions and occasional foolishness, and Baudouin Jackson brings pathos to the resignation one of the anonymous accused within the face of normalized racism. Philippe Godin, because the smooth-talking senator, and Bertrand Skol, who performs his repressed son, additionally make a superb case for Sartre’s character improvement.

As summer season nears, some venues have additionally turned to alfresco theater to attract audiences. At the Théâtre de la Tempête, Thomas Quillardet introduced two reveals tailored from motion pictures by the Nouvelle Vague filmmaker Éric Rohmer. He was famend for the standard of his dialogue, and each “Where Hearts Meet” (impressed by two movies, 1984’s “Full Moon in Paris” and 1986’s “The Green Ray”) and “The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque” stream and poo like good champagne.

Florent Cheippe and Anne-Laure Tondu in “Where Hearts Meet,” directed by Thomas Quillardet on the Théâtre de la Tempête.Credit…Pierre Grosbois

“The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque,” primarily based on the 1993 movie of the identical title and carried out in a park simply behind the venue, additionally stands out for its political relevance. This story of a small-town mayor whose plans to construct a multimedia library run into opposition from inexperienced activists would possibly unfold equally at the moment, all the way down to its left-wing divisions on local weather points. It even incorporates a music praising the thrill of working from residence — three a long time earlier than Covid-19 made that a widespread necessity.

Plays like this are a reminder of what we’ve gained as cultural establishments reopen in France, but the expertise stays in some methods bittersweet. For over two months, from March to May, occupiers primarily reclaimed venues, just like the Odéon, that normally play host to a small subset of the French inhabitants.

According to the most recent large-scale examine of cultural habits within the nation, in 2018, solely 12 p.c of France’s working class had attended a theater efficiency within the earlier yr. The viewers for status productions equivalent to van Hove’s “Glass Menagerie,” particularly, is hardly consultant of French society at giant.

After a yr of upheaval, extra imaginative choices would have been welcome. What if administrators across the nation had given occupiers an opportunity to carry their very own on the phases they spent a lot time round? It’s not the social revolution protesters have been gunning for, nevertheless it might need been a begin.

From left, Nans Laborde Jourdàa, Florent Cheippe, Malvina Plégat and Clémentine Baert in “The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque” on the Théâtre de la Tempête.Credit…Pierre Grosbois

The Glass Menagerie. Directed by Ivo van Hove. Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe. Further performances deliberate in Tokyo, Athens and Amsterdam from September by means of November.

The Respectful Whore. Directed by Laetitia Lebacq. A La Folie Théâtre, by means of June 20.

Where Hearts Meet / The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque. Directed by Thomas Quillardet. Théâtre de la Tempête, by means of June 20.