Sunday, May 03, 2009

Anouilh: The Rehearsal

Glendale, May 3—

I'VE BEEN THINKING all day about last night's play, The Rehearsal, translated from Jean Anouilh's La Répétition ou l'Amour puni by Pamela Johnson and Kitty Black and produced, very well indeed, at A Noise Within.

As I mentioned yesterday, that company, resident here, doesn't ignore the French classics: I think we've seen one every year for the last nine years. I'm extremely grateful for that: in ignoring the theater of other languages we Americans reinforce our tendency to cultural insularity. And these plays are important, not only for themselves but also for the conversation they strike up with other pieces. I've been thinking today of the conversation between The Rehearsal and Friday night's play, Ibsen's Ghosts. I'm sure they were chosen for that complementarity; it even fits Anouilh's basic concept in The Rehearsal, a concept I think of as characteristically French, that of double.

Anouilh himself plays off a much earlier theater piece, Marivaux's La Double Inconstance, which concerns a clash of classes more familiar to Americans perhaps via the Zerlina-Masetto subplot in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. In all these vehicles a girl from the lower classes is toyed with by a nobleman: by the time the story reaches Anouilh, the Count, "Tiger," actually falls in love with his Lucile, hired to look after a dozen orphans (mercifully never on stage), precipitating serious consequences for his wife, his mistress, and most seriously of all his old friend Hero.

The play is long, talky, and complex, with the characters always in 18th-century French costume (since they're preparing an amateur production of the Marivaux play) and alternating between being themselves — wooden and arch enough, since they're mostly unoccupied and decadent anciens riches — and acting the Marivaux roles. But Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's direction is patient and thoughtful, guiding the audience as well as her cast through Anouilh's difficulties, and the cast is splendid.

The play is full of symmetries: the Countess and the Count's mistress are doubles; the Count and his friend Hero are doubles; and the relationships cross and parallel in delightfully complicated ways. It wasn't until today, though, that I saw that the ingenue Lucile, who seems to have no counterpart in the play, is the double of Regina, the maid in Ibsen's Ghosts. This made me see the similarity of Hero and Engstrand, both of whom cynically drive the action of their respective plots; and of Tiger and Pastor Manders, both of whom have to confront sudden awareness of hitherto repressed or unsuspected emotions.

Seeing plays in repertory like this provides unsuspected insights; we're lucky there are companies like A Noise Within and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to provide them.
The Rehearsal, by Jean Anouilh, directed by Julia Rodriguez-Eliot. Damiens: Mitchell Edmonds; Countess: Susan Angelo; Tiger: Robertson Dean; Hortensia: Jill Hill; Hero: Geoff Elliott; Villebosse: Steve Coombs; Lucile: Lenne Klingaman.
Repeats through May 24.

No comments: