Avignon Festival Forges Ahead, Despite Virus Restrictions

AVIGNON, France — It feels like a virologist’s nightmare: 1,070 theater productions; 116 venues, most of them inside Avignon’s cramped medieval middle; and all over the place, festivalgoers sitting shoulder to shoulder in indoor areas.

Yet the Fringe providing at this summer time’s Avignon Festival — which runs parallel to the primary occasion, and is called “le Off” — has cast forward, even because the extra contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus grew to become the dominant pressure in France.

Is it problematic to take pleasure in glorious performances beneath the circumstances? With the rituals of Avignon, together with unmasked performers handing out publicity fliers on the street, got here a way of normalcy. Still, a sneaky sense of guilt permeated conversations with theatergoers — not least when new restrictions had been introduced, shortly after the Avignon Festival started.

Last week, the French authorities decreed “health pass” — a QR code proving full vaccination or a destructive coronavirus take a look at end result — could be required from July 21 for all venues with over 50 seats. Restaurants, bars and trains will observe from Aug. 1. (The well being cross requirement beforehand utilized solely to occasions with greater than 1,000 viewers members.)

Frustration was palpable in Avignon within the days earlier than the rule got here into power. While roughly half of Fringe venues are sufficiently small to skirt it, some firms opted to depart early, and larger exhibits reported ticket returns and a drop in bookings. Last weekend, as widespread demonstrations in opposition to the coverage swept France, protesters crammed Avignon’s greatest avenue, shouting “Liberté!” (“Freedom!”)

Marc Arnaud in “The Metamorphosis of Storks,” his one-man present on the Théâtre du Train Bleu.Credit…Alejandro Guerrero

While the Avignon Festival’s official lineup (“le In,” in native parlance) went from bleak to bleaker in its themes, Fringe fare a minimum of supplied some respite from pandemic worries, since comedy has at all times been a outstanding a part of this much less intellectual portion of the competition.

Two unique one-man exhibits, by Mehdi-Emmanuel Djaadi and Marc Arnaud, mix jokes and impressions with explorations of deep-seated interior conflicts. Djaadi’s “Coming Out,” particularly, is an train in stereotype busting. The popping out in query is non secular: The present recounts the 34-year-old comic’s conversion from Islam to Catholicism.

Support for his selection was scarce, as Djaadi tells it on the aptly named Théâtre des Corps Saints (Theater of the Holy Bodies). His household, of Algerian descent, felt he was turning his again on them; a priest defined that he didn’t need any bother; in inventive circles, many had been in poor health relaxed with what they noticed because the Catholic Church’s homophobia and conservatism.

Yet as a substitute of expressing the resentment he might need felt, Djaadi appears to be like again on his journey, from teenage insurrection and drug dealing to a Catholic wedding ceremony, with amused affection. He factors to contradictions on each side, and France’s churchgoers are available in for pointed satire, too.

In “The Metamorphosis of Storks,” Arnaud focuses on a a lot shorter stretch of time. He and his spouse went by the method of in vitro fertilization, and we meet Arnaud as he’s about to donate a sperm pattern — a course of that brings up much more emotions than he anticipated.

Morgane Peters as Effie in “Iphigenia in Splott,” directed by Blandine Pélissier at Artéphile.Credit…Blandine Pélissier

As he stalls impatient hospital workers, his monologue covers his sexual schooling, his makes an attempt at remedy and anxiousness about parenthood. It’s a brisk, trustworthy reckoning with the travails of masculinity, which packed the Théâtre du Train Bleu to the rafters (earlier than the well being cross requirement was applied).

Not that Avignon audiences had been turned off by darker exhibits. At Artéphile, one of many few Fringe venues to additionally operate as a year-round cultural house, the director Blandine Pélissier supplied a stark and convincing manufacturing, “Iphigenia in Splott.”

The Welsh playwright Gary Owen is comparatively unknown in France, however his 2015 remodeling of the Iphigenia fable — translated by Pélissier and Kelly Rivière — ought to immediate curiosity about his work. Here, the sacrificial sufferer is Effie, from the Cardiff district of Splott, a blaze of raging vitality who turns into unexpectedly pregnant. This 90-minute monologue convincingly attributes the shortage of assist she encounters to social and medical service cuts, and the actress Morgane Peters takes the function from hard-edge anger to ache with poignant ease.

Productions with bigger casts had been a much bigger problem this yr, given constructive coronavirus take a look at among the many firm was sufficient to name a showcase, and the director and actress Julie Timmerman downsized her present “A Democrat” consequently. Timmerman retooled this glorious manufacturing about Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Freud generally known as “the father of public relations,” for simply two actors (Mathieu Desfemmes and herself). The result’s adroitly written and witty, a worthy have a look at the risks of Bernays’ strategies once they’re used for propaganda functions.

While the Avignon Festival’s official, curated lineup includes far fewer productions than the Fringe, it was hit with a handful of coronavirus-related cancellations. The inventive groups of two choreographers, Dada Masilo and Dimitris Papaioannou, had been unable to journey to Avignon, whereas Eva Doumbia’s “Autophagies” noticed its run interrupted when members of the forged and crew had to enter isolation after coming into contact with an contaminated individual.

Mathieu Desfemmes and Julie Timmerman in “A Democrat.”Credit…Roland Baduel

Two European productions that went forward make an enduring impression. Emma Dante, of Italy, choreographs as a lot as she directs, and in “Misericordia,” theater turns into dance and vice versa. In it, three ladies increase a baby, Arturo, who’s described as mentally disabled and whose mom was a sufferer of home violence. Together, they kind a bickering, complicated household. The dancer Simone Zambelli not solely captures Arturo’s twitching, disjointed physique, he spins his bodily vulnerability and moments of pleasure into poetry, knotting himself into expressive shapes.

Avignon additionally hosted the stage model of “Pieces of a Woman.” Before it grew to become a movie starring Vanessa Kirby final yr, the playwright Kata Weber and the director Kornel Mundruczo imagined it for the TR Warszawa playhouse in Warsaw, and the Polish forged delivered a intestine punch in Avignon on the Lycée Théodore Aubanel.

The play begins with the identical prolonged labor scene because the movie, nevertheless it covers much less narrative floor after the central couple’s child is stillborn. Whereas the display screen model particulars the trial of a midwife who attended to the start, that is solely hinted at as a risk onstage, and Maja, who misplaced her baby, refuses to undergo with it. Instead, the characters’ grief performs out over a protracted household dinner on the house of Maja’s mom.

The end result requires extra endurance on viewers’ half, however rewards it with a completely shaped portrait of a household adrift. In that sense, the stage model of “Pieces of a Woman” completes Weber and Mundruczo’s puzzle: Let’s hope Avignon gained’t be its solely worldwide cease.

The forged of “Pieces of a Woman,” by the playwright Kata Weber and the director Kornel Mundruczo.Credit…Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Festival d’Avignon