dimanche 23 mars 2008

An Arnolphe "précieusement ridicule"?

I don't read the critics before going to the theater, but sometimes I read them afterwards, when little nagging questions about the production pester me, like did it hit the right note? What would Molière have thought? From the little I can find online in newspapers like Le Figaro and L'Express, maybe I wasn't the only one to have a little bit of trouble hearing what was being said, and maybe the alexandrins were perhaps a little appuyés, notably in the prelude, which tends to sound like a recitation (although why you would write in them and not speak them is a little hard for me to understand), and just possibly director Jean-Pierre Vincent's take is trop comédie-excessive and Auteuil's Arnolphe under his direction too much the buffoon, too pathetic to be interesting. To know, I'd have to see these other interpretations of this petit-bourgeois noble, from Molière's -- it seems that Daniel Auteuil's bronze suit and the round hat are exact replicas of those worn by Molière in the role -- to those cataloged in Laurence Liban's piece in "Enquête Théâtre: Les répétitions de l'Ecole des Femmes" in L'Express:

"the gravité of Lucien Guitry in 1924, and the classicisme of Fernand Ledoux in 1935. After the war, the avant-garde productions, such as Antoine Vitez's with the young Didier Sandre alternate with more traditional visions, such as that of ventripotent [which means just what it sounds like, "one who has a big belly"; think Rabelasian] Jean Le Poulain. Dry and austere like Philippe Clévenot, round and unctuously flattering like Marcel Maréchal, or high-strung in the manner of Pierre Arditi or seductive in that of Jacques Weber, a woman like Coline Serreau, energetic like Jean-Paul Farré or the thunderous [tonitruant] style of Bruno Raffaelli, Arnolphe résiste à tout."

I am just not convinced that Molière intended us to identify with Arnolphe. It is a form of theater snobbery to want "dimensionality" and "subtlety" of Arnolphe. This is Molière. L'Ecole des Femmes (The School of Wives) is a farce. It satirizes and entertains -- another function of theater. One of my favorite ones. We laughed, which is what we went to do, even though one critic said that the audience did not break out in peals of laughter, seeming perhaps a little uncertain about this Arnolphe. I walked out of the theater repeating, "Je crève! J'enrage!", my fist curled to my entrails, where Arnolphe, Molière bringing his message home in one of Arnolphe's great temper tantrums, says he "warmed Agnès like a snake," just like I parroted "Oh my God, I think I'm going to be sick!" all the way home in the car at the age of 8 after seeing Promises, Promises.

I suspect that given the reaction to this piece in its time, Molière would have approved. Molière preferred tragedy, but his masterpieces include these farces. There is always un homme ridicule in these pieces, and this time he is the vehicule Molière creates to send up bourgeois male attitudes towards women and marriage. It was a daring piece, and eventually forbidden. Safer to play it broad in satire -- the ridiculous is, after all, ridicuous.

I am going to stand by my applause for Daniel Auteuil, along with the rest of the cast. I wish I could watch him do it again, and again.

As for the dinner review, the meat and the wine were red as anticipated, Filet de bœuf à la sauce béarnaise, and my Sole Meunière was the pale yellow of the clarified butter served in a little dish alongside. It was also outrageously expensive for a fish dish, but it isn't easy to find a real sole on your plate when you order it, often being replaced without warning by its understudy: flounder. I still cook better than most restaurants (most of us do), but it's the theater of dinner for which you pay, as well as for everyone else to do the work; the restaurant walls lined with mirrors and posters from plays, the enormous palms in plants on the bar and low walls, the heavy crimson drapes partially obscuring the view inside, and back outside, black-jacketed waiters whizzing past carrying platters of mussels, oysters, langoustines and everything else that clings to rocks and lies at the bottom of the water, plates of meat and vegetables, slices of foie gras and Sauternes gelée, bottles of Grand Cru Classe St. Emilion and maybe, sometimes, occasionally a Roederer's "Cristal" Brut Champagne at 240 euros a bottle.

The oysters, from the Quiberon in Brittany, were lovely, and the Lillet, so hard to find outside of the Gironde... let's just say I'd be perfectly happy to stay at the apératif all evening. Except for the oysters.

On view were several pairs of lifted and improved breasts. My son declared this distasteful. My husband agreed. More of the ridiculous! One woman's perma-tanned ones were on display in a plunging diaphanous Emilio Pucci style top, her Lady Godiva blond locks cut just short enough to emphasize what they failed to shield. Her 8 or 9 year old son had a perfect view as she leaned over to cut his meat for him, while he diligently plunged his gaze into his GameBoy screen. We felt confident that he will grow up to be very well adjusted.

Another woman -- a regular -- we had spotted sporting her own pair, returned as the restaurant emptied long after midnight, this time modestly attired in a down jacket, chatting on her cell phone with her chocolate Labrador puppy in tow. I couldn't help myself, I bent down and let him wriggle in my arms and teeth on my hand (Ha, I know where you thought that was going!).

"3 months?" I asked.

"Pile point," she beamed. Everyone loves a Lab, even people who pay too much attention to their breasts and make us, too.

Whatever happened to big diamonds?

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