Academic journal article TheatreForum

Writing at Avignon (2010): Towards a Return of Narration

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Writing at Avignon (2010): Towards a Return of Narration

Article excerpt

The term "narration" may lead to some confusion. I'm not referring to a narrative related by a character, such as the messenger's narrative in classical tragedy, for example, or the internal narratives of a drama, but to two things: on the one hand, the act of narrating"narrative discourse"-that is to the say the manner in which the theatre (text and/or stage) tells a story; and on the other hand, the result of that narration, the story, the fable. Classical narratology (elaborated in the 1960s) draws a distinction between the plot (the intrigue, or the manner of telling the story) and the story (the history, the fable, the mythos)-a distinction homologous to that of the Russian Formalists: the sjujet, the how of the storytelling, as opposed to the fabula, the what of the story.

L'homme sans qualités/ The Man without Qualities (Robert Musil/Guy Cassiere)

It takes some courage, a good dose of recklessness, and a certain taste for provocation to adapt Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities to the stage, not so much because of its length (1,400 pages) but because it is profoundly rooted in the culture of Central Europe of a century ago. Added to that are the usual difficulties of adapting novels to the stage. The epic text resists dramatization, and it's an error to believe that all it takes to obtain a drama is to extract the dialogue from a novel. The narrative tissue resists facile transformation into a story that is limited by the time and space of a play or performance. In the case of Musil, what his characters say is so lengthy and complicated that it would be impossible to speak the words just as they are in the novel.

This adaptation rejects the option of simplifying the relationships and conflicts, and clarifying the muddle of outdated problematics. Even more serious: there is no point at which the different possible worlds of the numerous characters, the possible world that results from the characters' barely legible interactions, and the possible worlds of the spectators come together.

Paradoxically, the attempt to fashion an epic drama by extracting stories and dialogues from a novel impedes and may even preclude the narration and comprehension of a story. Too much epic damages the dramatic, the pleasure of telling and listening to stories. The return of narration, therefore, need not depend on the utilization of stories; on the contrary, it needs a clear and concentrated dramatic principle, a simplification and a systematization of actions, a possibility for the spectator to identify with the characters and the actions. This Man Without Qualities produces no legible dramatic situation, no dramatic arc. The spectator perceives nothing but an interminable juxtaposition of effects and images of actor-speakers and discourses that rub shoulders with each other without interacting. In any case, no narration emerges that a spectator might be interested in or identify with. It seems, then, that adaptations of novels that simply quote existing passages without rewriting, rethinking, or reembodying the text have little chance of participating in this renewal of storytelling.

Un nid pour quoi faire? (What's the Nest For?) (Olivier Cadiot/Ludovic Lagarde)

The text of Olivier Cadiot's play, adapted from his novel, is at once legible, figurative, facetious, and impenetrable. But is penetration really the issue? How should we receive this play pulled from the novelistic bed, or rather how should we listen to it and observe it in Ludovic Lagarde's mise en scène?

The story is easy to see: a king in exile has set himself up in a mountain chalet where he is reconstituting his court. A communications counselor, visitors, and courtiers gravitate around the despot. This plot without history but not without intrigue-and not of great interest either-takes pains to retain our attention and to reveal to us the slightest subtext. The succession of the mini-actions involving the court plot and the dramatic plot produces no global action, no story, no hidden interpretation. …

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