(Curtain calls in tuxes)
As a newbie guest at the Williamstown Theater Festival last summer, I vowed to see plays more often, to keep getting my inner furniture moved around and my senses refreshed. On Friday, a friend in the cast, Xavier Gallais, got me 2 last-minute tickets to Splendid’s by Jean Genet. My favorite Irish-Parisian actress was free. As we hopped on a bus, she said she knew Genet’s work but not this piece so she’d checked it out on the website. She wondered aloud what the erotic subject matter and staging would do to her libido… some of the still photos looked very S&M. We talked about how Genet’s writing was censored in the 50’s when homosexuality was completely taboo, even in France. “Well,” I ventured in jest, “I guess we don’t go to the theater to see our own living rooms?”
You might say Splendid’s is about as far removed from my living room as it gets. The set is magnificent: a grand hotel hallway bathed in blue-green light like an aquarium, under a huge still from Un chant d’amour, Genet’s 24 minute B&W silent film about prison sexuality and voyeurism, projected as an intro to the play. The aquatic lighting intensifies a transe-like vibe created by the actors’ slomo choreography and languid delivery of the text, in a fluid medium for osmosis between morality and crime, straight and gay, bourgeois society and prison life. Recordings of Billie Holiday and Jeanne Moreau lend a female presence to the all-male ensemble, mostly clad in flesh-colored boxer shorts revealing full-body jailbird tatoos, as they come and go between the hotel room “cells” brandishing tommy guns.
Reasons to leave your living room: Genet’s passion and hallucinatory flare for language, the cast’s charisma and commitment, time capsule of closeted homosexuality and Hollywood-gangster-envy… In English with French subtitles, good translation.
The theater itself is an example of Escher-esque contemporary architecture near the Place Gambetta. Inside the startling three-story glass showcase façade are zigzagging levels to the Grand Theater upstairs, café restaurant downstairs, and bookshop in between (plus a smaller venue still to be explored)…
Directed by Arthur Nauzyciel
March 17-26, La Colline Théâtre National, 15 rue Malte-Brun, Paris 20