Reassuring variations of "I heard it was good," and as common threats of "It better be," pepper the courtyard of The Avignon Theatre Festival's mercifully comfortable La FabricA theatre. Concern is well placed as Gosselin's epic three part trilogy, Joueurs, Mao II, et Les Noms spans a daring ten hours without intermission. This marathon, which seamlessly synthesizes literature, film, and live drama, transforms La FabricA into its own artistic ecosystem. It's hard to imagine that some residue of the artistic toil will not indelibly mark the space. What results from these ten hours is part elegy to the state of violence, part theatrical deconstruction, and part Netflix binge.

The performance is filmed live on a big screen with sporadic cinematic credits superimposed over the action. Normally with this framework the stage experience takes prominence over the filmed representation however, here the inverse is true. Anything the audience is witness to physically, save a few powerful moments, is seemingly incidental. Though, it's hard to imagine that anything on Gosselin's tightly wound clockwork stage is haphazard. Each society created by the artists has its own distinct cinematic vocabulary from lighting to camera angle.

The first part of the performance, Joueurs, takes place in a fictional 1970s New York. A Wall Street broker falls Fight Club style into a communist Mao cult. Simultaneously, his eccentric self-medicating wife takes a trip to Maine as the third wheel to her two friends who are in a gay relationship. While there she has a brief secret affair with one of the friends who has just turned thirty. Followed by the ubiquitous camera they run through the maze like set, past the instrumentalists backstage, and open the upstage door into the brilliant Avignon sun where they undress and simulate sex. For a play as patient as this one is, it is worth noting that sex is rarely presented as something sensual. Rather, sex is shown as an act to be committed and completed. It is sometimes an act of defiance, consolation or, in one heart-rending scene, casual violence. Aesthetically the world of Joueurs is the world of Tarantino, with its bold colors, and energetic play with society's inherent absurdity. This aesthetic gels well to the plot, as it is in this piece that violence is most desired and wielded almost as a genre of fetishism.

The second part of the performance, Mao II, is more standard art house cinema. In moody black and white we meet an author who has suffered a quarter century's worth of writer's block. During this piece there is a beautiful questioning of the importance of the writer in comparison to that of the terrorist in society. It is well argued that only the terrorist isn't integrated into society. This otherness ultimately renders the terrorist the most important creative figure in the world. During this work we meet the writer's frustrated but convivial publisher, a pair of young lovers who live with him, and a young photographer who has been granted permission to take his portrait.

Les Noms, the third and final piece of the evening, is the most tangibly theatrical. The usual barriers to audience view such as big screens, plywood walls, and glass towers are set aside and light caramel colored curtains are pulled halfway across the proscenium. Then all elements are finally pulled, including the curtains, to reveal a bare stage. Cinematically the universe created is comparatively unique. The towering gossamer curtains give Les Noms a sense of the cosmic but interspersed dinner table scenes could just as easily be home movies. Les Noms is the evening's most obvious meditation on terror, desire, and violence in the modern world. Sitting center on the now bare stage an actor quietly ponders the pain in the world. It is a daring choice to place at the 9 hour mark. Then, for a final image, the ensemble enters the stage and, accompanied by musicians and helpful surtitles, strip while they scream in tongues.

The landscape of astonishing performances in this work could fill a coffee table book, much less a review. The cast includes Rémi Alexandre, Guillaume Bachelé, Adama Diop, Joseph Drouet, Denis Eyriey, Antoine Ferron, Noémie Gantier, Carine Goron, Alexandre Lecroc-Lecerf, Frédéric Leidgens, Caroline Mounier, Victoria Quesnel, Maxence Vandevelde. I have no doubt any one of them could bear the burden of the theatre's most challenging roles and it is a treasure to watch them selflessly uphold this once in a lifetime ensemble. In addition to the cast Rémi Alexandre Guillaume Bachelé, and Maxence Vandevelde deserve endless praise for their musical accompaniment. Their work initiates and maintains the pulse of this seemingly living work of art. Jérémie Bernaert and Pierre Martin's cinematic creation is demanding, engaging, and a triumphant exploration of storytelling and performance. Scenography by Hubert Colas is a one of a kind theatrical invention. Colas has rendered the cinematic possibilities of limitless space on stage through methods of trial and error that I couldn't begin to contemplate. Lighting design by Nicolas Joubert is smartly sympathetic to audience curiosity. Joubert's lights are often the only graceful reminder to the audience of the life of the piece on stage. Sound design by Julien Feryn doesn't hold back, whether playing with live voice vs cinematic reverberation, or penetrating the body through an Inception like bass. Caroline Tavernier created selflessly realist costumes, which conform both to the setting and the reality of restrictions in time/character transitions. Lastly, it would be an unforgivable omission if there were no recognition of Antoine Guilloux's masterful and arduous work as stage manager.

At times in the labyrinth of the play a weariness for finding a center settles in. This is especially the case for someone like me watching it in their second language. Yet, the indefatigable performers and technicians commit to an unrelenting subtlety and breathless precision. These virtues at turns reassure, entice, and engulf the audience's attention. Gosselin has created a sprawling magnum opus. It is a monument to both the human relationship with violence and artistic ambition.

Photo Credit: Christophe Raynaud de Lage and Hans Lucas

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From This Author Wesley Doucette

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