French drama

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audio Antigone (Anouilh)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

"The body of Polynices, Antigone's brother, has been ordered to remain unburied by Creon, the new king of Thebes. Antigone's faithfulness to her dead brother and his proper burial, and her defiance of the dictator Creon, seals her fate. Originally produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Anouilh's Antigone was seen by the French as theatre of the resistance and by the Germans as an affirmation of authority.

Includes an interview with translator Christopher Nixon and director Brendon Fox. Also includes an interview with Ned Chaillet, a playwright, radio producer and director for the BBC. Chaillet is the former Deputy Drama Critic for the Times of London and the London theatre critic for the Wall Street Journal-Europe. He spoke with us about Antigone in the context of World War Two, the differences bewtween the original myth of Sophocles and the Anouilh version, and Anouilh’s influence on later playwrights. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Jordan Bridges as Haemon and Guard Dominic Fumusa as Guard Francis Guinan as Creon John Hansen as Guard and Messenger Alan Mandell as Chorus Elizabeth Marvel as Antigone Alley Mills as Nanny Mandy Siegfried as Ismene Directed by Brendon Fox. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles."

Featuring: Jordan Bridges, Dominic Fumusa, Francis Guinan, Alan Mandell, Elizabeth Marvel, Alley Mills, Mandy Siegfried, John Hansen

audio Art

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

How much would you pay for a painting with nothing on it? Would it be “art”? Marc’s best friend Serge has just bought a very expensive – and very white – painting. To Marc, it is a joke, and as battle lines are drawn, old friends use the painting to settle scores. With friendships hanging in the balance, the question becomes: how much is a work of “art” worth? A Tony Award winner for Best Play and Oliver Award winner for Best Comedy.

Includes interviews with actors Bob Balaban and Brian Cox, as well as an interview with translator Christopher Hampton.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring:

Bob Balaban as Serge

Brian Cox as Marc

Jeff Perry as Yvan

Directed by Peter Levin. Translated by Christopher Hampton. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Bob Balaban, Brian Cox, Jeff Perry

'Art'

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Serge has bought a modern work of art for a large sum of money. Marc hates the painting and cannot believe that a friend of his could possibly want such a work. Yvan attempts, unsuccessfully, to placate both sides with hilarious consequences. The question is: Are you who you think you are or are you who your friends think you are?

'Art' in this translation was first performed at Wyndham's Theatre, London, in October 1996.

In 1998, the play received the Evening Standard and Laurence Olivier awards for Best Comedy and the Tony and New York Drama Critics' Circle awards for Best Play.

audio Becket, or The Honor of God

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Waiting to be punished for his part in Becket's murder, King Henry II re-lives his deeply felt relationship with the saint, once his dearest friend and partner in unbridled decadence. His catastrophic mistake? To appoint Becket Archbishop - for Becket finds his allegiance shifting from king and country to God and Church.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Asher Book, Kevin Daniels, Ken Danziger, Jean Gilpin, Alan Mandell, Charlie Matthes, Tim Monsion, Denis O' Hare, Jennifer Rau-Ramirez, Simon Templeman, John Vickery, Douglas Westen and Greg Woodell.

Featuring: Asher Book, Kevin Daniels, Ken Danziger, Jean Gilpin, Alan Mandell, Charlie Matthes, Tim Monsion, Denis O' Hare, Jennifer Rau-Ramirez, Simon Templeman, John Vickery, Douglas Westen, Greg Woodell

audio The Bungler

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In 17th Century Sicily, a clever valet named Mascarille tries to help his boss Lélie win the girl of his dreams -- only to find that Lélie is a monumental dunce who ruins every one of his intricate schemes. Undaunted, Mascarille invents progressively wilder plots, only to see his best-laid plans go very awry in Molière's The Bungler. Translated by Richard Wilbur.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Richard Easton as Mascarille Adam Godley as Lelie Alan Mandell as Trufaldin Dakin Matthews as Ergaste Christopher Neame as Pandolphe Paula Jane Newman as Celie Darren Richardson as Andres John Sloan as Léandre Norman Snow as Anselme Kate Steele as Hippolyte. This recording contains an interview with Mechele Leon, Associate Professor of Classical and Contemporary French Theatre at the University of Kansas. Directed by Dakin Matthews. Recorded at The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood.

Featuring: Richard Easton, Adam Godley, Alan Mandell, Dakin Matthews, Christopher Neame, Paula Jane Newman, Darren Richardson, John Sloan, Norman Snow, Kate Steele

Celestina

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Fernando de Rojas's Celestina, originally known as the Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea (Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea), is a work that is neither truly a play nor a novel, but something of both. First published in 1499, it comprises a series of dialogues that tell the story of a noble bachelor, Calisto, who uses the services of Celestina, the madam of a local brothel, to help him seduce Melibea, a beautiful young woman being kept in seclusion by her parents. Using all her wiles, and with the help of two greedy servants, Celestina goes about weaving her spells, with tragic results.

The original work is generally considered too lengthy to work satisfactorily on the stage: it would run to something like nine hours. But it has been performed in abbreviated versions written for the stage, and has come to be known after its famous central character, the procuress Celestina (in Spain, La Celestina).

This translation by John Clifford was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2004, and was first performed at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, on 16 August 2004, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. The production was directed by Calixto Bieito, with Kathryn Hunter in the role of Celestina.

Conversations after a Burial

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Simon Weinberg is dead. And, on a November morning, six people gather at his funeral - brothers and a sister, lovers and in-laws. Mourning allows them a special privilege and, for a few hours, they are isolated in another world under a lingering sun, in the shadow of the deceased.

Conversations after a Burial is a savage but richly comic play which explores that ineffable moment of mourning, when the newly deceased is still almost palpable, the moment in which one can maintain the memory of a breath, the intense pause between absence and the return to everyday existence, between loss and life.

Conversations after a Burial premiered at the Almeida Theatre, London, in September 2000.

Cuckold Ubu

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alfred Jarry’s Cuckold Ubu (Ubu Cocu) is the second in his cycle of Ubu plays about Pa Ubu, the grotesquely comical character first encountered in King Ubu (Ubu Roi).

This version is translated by Kenneth McLeish, who in his introduction to the published text calls the play 'the darkest and most surreal of the [Ubu] plays.' It is relatively short compared to its predecessor King Ubu, and is incomplete: Jarry never produced a definitive version of the play. He is believed to have begun its composition in 1897, a year after the premiere of King Ubu, and it was performed in various versions during his lifetime. It is written in the same style as King Ubu, with a characteristic combination of surrealism, ribaldry and biting satire.

The action of the play is summarised by McLeish as follows: 'Pa Ubu takes up residence in the home of Peardrop, a breeder of polyhedra, and he and his Barmpots tyrannise the neighbourhood, despite the efforts of Pa Ubu’s Conscience and Peardrop to stop them. There is war, led on Peardrop’s side by Memnon (the singing Egyptian statue with whom Ma Ubu is cuckolding Pa Ubu) and by the banker Swankipants, and eventually a crocodile appears in true Punch-and-Judy style to chase off all the others. (We don’t know whether it does or not: the play as it survives is incomplete.)'

audio Cyrano de Bergerac

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Cyrano is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents whose whimsical aptitude for the spoken word is overshadowed by an attribute that is iconic, outrageous and gigantic—his nose. How can the curiously-snouted Cyrano ever hope to win the affections of the beautiful Roxane? Includes a conversation with Sue Lloyd, author of “The Man Who Was Cyrano: A Life of Edmond Rostand.” An L.A. Theatre Works full cast recording, featuring Caroline Aaron, Hugo Armstrong, Kalen Harriman, Gregory Itzin, Hamish Linklater, Anna Mathias, Morgan Ritchie, Jason Ritter, André Sogliuzzo, Devon Sorvari, and Matthew Wolf Directed and adapted for radio by Barry Creyton and recorded before a live audience.

Featuring: Caroline Aaron, Hugo Armstrong, Kalen Harriman, Gregory Itzin, Hamish Linklater, Anna Mathias, Morgan Ritchie, Jason Ritter, André Sogliuzzo, Devon Sorvari, Matthew Wolf

Don Juan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s classic play retells the myth of Don Juan, the infamous womaniser with few morals and a scorn for religion.

Casanova Don Juan exasperates his sensible servant, Sganarelle, with his compromising behaviour. His recent escapade involves the beautiful Elvire, who he has abducted from a convent under the false pretence that they will be married. However, a new woman quickly turns his head and he sets sail in order to woo her with Sganarelle in tow. When their ship capsizes, a peasant rescues them and Don Juan quickly grabs the opportunity to seduce two peasant girls. It is here that Don Juan learns that Elvire’s brothers plans to kill him over his treatment of their sister. So he and Sganarelle decide to disguise themselves as they head back into the city. On the way our anti-hero unwittingly saves the life of one of Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos, from a crew of bandits. When he and his servant come across the tomb of a Governor that Don Juan previously killed, a statue comes to life. Sganarelle believes that this is Heaven’s way of signalling its wrath with Don Juan, but he remains unconcerned and even feigns spirituality. But this is one step too far for Heaven, who promptly swallows Don Juan up into the pit of Hell leaving Sganarelle alone and penniless.

Riding high from the success of Tartuffe a year before, Molière wrote Don Juan in a matter of weeks in order to fill a gap in his schedule. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1665 with Molière playing the part of Sganarelle.

When François I established French as the official language of his kingdom around 1540, theatre rapidly became one of the foundations on which it sought to base its cultural ambitions. By translating, adapting and imitating the tragedies of Seneca, comedies of Terence and Plautus and pastoral plays of Renaissance Italy, scholarly French humanists aspired to raise French literature to the illustrious level of those models. Treating Classical or Biblical stories with a strong political and moral sense, Etienne Jodelle, Jean de la Taille, Robert Garnier, Antoine de Monchrestien and Pierre de Larivey established the ground rules for the genres of tragedy and comedy on classical models. Outside universities and colleges, however, theatre did not attain social or intellectual respectability until the 1630s when Louis XIII and his minister Cardinal Richelieu supported a group of young literary dramatists and used the newly-founded Académie française to codify a set of rules for theatrical form based on Aristotle’s precepts. Thus the vigorous and spectacular dramas of the Baroque period, dominated in Paris by the prolific Alexandre Hardy, gave way to the Classical aesthetic, prioritizing purity of expression, harmony and unity of form, explored by Pierre Corneille then firmly established by Jean Racine in tragedy and Molière in comedy. Between them, those three theatrical geniuses produced 77 plays between 1629 and 1677, at least twenty of which (including Le Cid, L’Illusion comique, L’Ecole des Femmes, Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, Andromaque and Phèdre) must be considered world-class masterpieces of the classical genres. The patterns they established became codified in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and much of French theatrical life became derivative and stultified, although Marivaux drew inspiration from Italian actors to achieve success with delicate comedies of love and manners. Only Beaumarchais in the 1770s restored French drama to a world-class position, with his vivacious and witty satires, notably Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro. In the early nineteenth century, French theatre was reinvigorated by the influence of Shakespeare – hitherto barely known and generally despised – and of German theatre; Romantic poets Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset composed large-scale complex dramas, combining the comic and the tragic with an exalted conception of the heroic and a self-conscious quest for poetic effectiveness. Their vogue was displaced by a sequence which reflected the broader artistic and literary movements through the century: Realism (Eugène Scribe, Émile Augier and Henry Becque), followed by Naturalism (adaptations for the stage of novels by Zola and the Goncourts, plays by Paul Alexis, Octave Mirbeau and Émile Fabre) then Symbolism, dominated by the Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck. The middle years of the century also saw the flowering of the genre still generally referred to as ‘French farce’, with works by Eugène Labiche, Georges Feydeau and others providing the foundation for a tradition which was taken on by Jean Anouilh in the twentieth century. Modern French theatre has been dominated by a series of shocking experiments, apparently motivated by a desire to jolt audiences out of complacency with regard not only to social realities, but also to the role of art and literature, and particularly to the place and status of theatre within the country’s literary heritage. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays, dramatic experiments within the Surrealist and Dada movements, the innovative uses of space, music and text in the works of Jean Cocteau and above all the French contributions to the Theatre of the Absurd (notably from Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett), all celebrated playfulness, childishness and zaniness to an extent which tired the patience of the average theatre-goer, but ensured that the French theatre’s reputation for vigorous inventiveness and exuberant life was maintained through the century. Alongside such innovative experiments, the work of several major literary figures, such as André Gide, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, includes drama. The Comédie-française and other national companies ensure the ongoing reputation of the canonical heritage whilst a thriving provincial and fringe/café theatre culture provides a vigorous anti-establishment counterpoint. Amongst other currently active dramatists, Michel Vinaver and Yasmina Reza seem destined to ensure the continuing rich health of live performance art in French artistic life.

by Edward Forman, Senior Lecturer in French, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol