Academic journal article TheatreForum

Writing at Arignon (2009): Dramatic, Postdramatic, or Post-Postdramatic

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Writing at Arignon (2009): Dramatic, Postdramatic, or Post-Postdramatic

Article excerpt

What's going on in French dramatic writing at the beginning of this new century? And do those three terms-"French," "dramatic," "writing"-still apply? Do people still write dramatic texts for the theatre, readable published texts read as literature-texts that we might think of being preproduction? Are those texts still dramatic or are they already "postdramatic," radically different from those that preceded them? Is there any value in identifying French or Francophone output as distinct from that of other languages, especially when those plays are surtitled in "our" language? Such are a few basic questions that immediately occur to an innocent, naïve observer who has come to Avignon to get some idea of what's happening with writing and staging nowadays, if not to "take the pulse of the world."

For anyone who wants to respond to these naïve questions by selecting a few shows from both the in and off Avignon Festivals, innocence is certainly a necessary virtue. This selection-more arbitrary than judicious-was itself preceded by a series of even earlier decisions by those in charge of programming, all of whom function as so many filters between the texts and their ultimate scenic destinations. With respect to the official programming-the criteria for which escape comprehension-one might comment that it reflects, perhaps, the introduction to the 2009 Festival Program by its directors, Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller: "Mankind needs to tell stories because they grant man his humanity, allow him to apprehend the world and to resist the temptations of amnesia" (63rd Avignon Festival Program 3). This quasi electoral program-unfocused, enormous, unrealizable, not to mention demagogic-nevertheless quite effectively identifies a tendency of the stagings, of the programming, and of my own selection: the art of storytelling, of talking about the world by means of actors representing fictitious characters. Criteria that, according to HansThies Lehmann, are characteristic of all that precedes the postdramatic, including the Theatre of the Absurd and Epic Theatre, which "engage in the presentations of fictive and simulated cosmos" (Lehmann 89).

Of this cosmos, I present here only some isolated stars, the first two from the in Festival and the last three from the off: La maison des cerfs (The Deer House) by Jan Lauwers; Le livre d'or de Jan (Jan's Guestbook) by Hubert Colas; Naître à jamais (Born for Never) by Andras Visky and Gabor Tompa; La mère (The Mother) by Oh TaeSok; Fleurs de cimetière (Cemetery Flowers) by Dominique Wittorski and Myriam Hervé-Gil. This collection includes authors who have staged their own plays or montages-a fairly rare occurrence nowadays; only Oh, at some distance from the theatre, has wisely avoided this tough job by giving it to a director. It is precisely this text-stage matrix that we are interested in probing in an attempt to identify not only some common trends but also some radical differences. In order to facilitate comparison, the plays by Colas and Lauwers will be discussed under the three rubrics that seemed relevant: scenography and mise en scène, writing, and mythology.

Jan Lauwers: The Deer House

Scenography and mise en scène

The trilogy, renamed Sad Face/ Happy Face, includes, in order, Isabella's Room, The Lobster's Bazaar, and The Deer House. All three plays are performed in the stifling heat of the same hangar, a transformable space with a very wide and deep stage, lit as brightly as possible most of the time. The trilogy takes us from one story to another, successively evoking the past, the future, and the present. The whole space remains open to view; it supports the changes in dancing or location where the dancers meet and prepare themselves. The same absence of pretense characterizes the performances, which avoid all pomposity and sham. Objects appear as if placed haphazardly on the ground; the discontinuous dialogue is frequently accompanied by one or more dancers in the background or extended by the song of a chorus. …

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