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Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE NID DE CENDRES By SIMON FALGUIÈRES

Simon Falguière's Le Nid de Cendres relies on theatre's storied past to make an argument for hope and happy endings.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE NID DE CENDRES By SIMON FALGUIÈRES

While describing the marginalization of theatre artists in early Christian society my theatre history professor once said, "It must be a kind of witchcraft or at least magic. You are making something there that wasn't there before from your mere presence!" These words rang in my ears as I watched Simon Falguière's Le Nid de Cendres, a 13 hour long miracle currently running at The Festial d'Avignon's mercifully comfortable La Fabrica theatre. Separated into seven segments from 11 in the morning until midnight and after eight years of construction, the ambition of Falguière's company Le K is obvious. Though what astounds more than the run time is that this ambition is paired with boundless imagination, cutting wit, and deep generosity.

The performers take advantage of the run time to create a work that honors centuries of story telling tradition from Sophocles to Cinderella and from Shakespeare to Susanna Clarke. In Le Nid de Cendres two worlds, one of dreams and our own, are in crisis and collide with one another. Actor John Arnold plays, among other roles, a king who mournfully waits for his queen to wake up from a long slumber. He moves with ease in affect from a mad Lear to fairy tale curmudgeon. Antonin Chalon wins laughs as a drunk Sophocles, who has made his peace with playing second fiddle to Homer and Shakespeare. Mathilde Charbonneaux performs an astounding range with exacting clarity, from the comical fairy tale queen to diva Bélise. Clad in a red velvet dress, Camille Constantin Da Silva is a human hug for the audience. Her welcoming presence as Sarah jumpstarts us for reentry into the world of Le Nid de Cendres. She spent the first few post intermission segments painstakingly counting to see how many bailed. In truth, she need not have worried, most stayed until the end.

Frederic Dockes gets some of the first big laughs of the day as a put upon actor, complaining that "In a 13 hour long piece I get three lines!" Self-referencing humor like this peppers the performance, but it never feels forced. Elise Douyere shows a command of character growth as Etoile transforms from an unsure of herself 20 year old to a commanding woman. Anne Duverneuil imbues the abstract conundrum of Sophie with rooted pathos. Charlie Fabert's self pitying Brock could easily have been a dead weight on the production, but instead offers his character as someone rational, estimable, and dangerous. Charly Fournier keeps the tone light, and receives rousing applause as the in drag and incognito former President. Victoire Goupil has a stirring on stage death as Oerine.Charlaine Nezan is a wonderful addition to the wandering acting troupe. Pia Lagrange offers her Princesse Anne more as Twelfth Night's Viola than as from a fairy tale. She takes the run time of the piece to exhibit her range from Greek tragedy, to symbolist drama, to action star, and back again. Lorenzo Lefebvre's doesn't have an easy task with Gabriel. He needs to be both compelling, and someone whose lead can be called into question. He presents to the audience a man exhausted by destiny.

Stanislas Perrin's Jean and Manon Rey's Julie give us a family drama to cling onto like a life raft. They are tasked with creating a start that is so strong that it can keep the seven separate dramatic segments airborn. In this, and creating constant anticipation throughout the performance, it is a job well done. Lastly from the cast, something must be said about Mathias Zakhar's Monsieur Badile. He is, in a word, effortless. His figure calls to mind both Puck and Mephistopheles as he creates an air of joy and danger. He is equal parts Peter Lorre, William Dafoe, and Charlie Chaplin. Zakhar also plays flatter, sillier roles with wonderful abandon. He is the scene-stealer when given the opportunity, and the team player in equal measure.

Like in Shakespeare, the characters run the rhetorical gamut from the vulgar to the poetically existential. There are times through the course of this production that it occurred to me that this is what it must have felt like to have seen The Berliner Ensemble under Brecht and Caspar Neher. The exactness, presence, and precision of the performers create a never-ending jewel box of poetic dramatic images. The stage was a piece of poetry in and of itself. I feel gratitude to Scenographer Emmanuel Clolus, for providing a space that ignites imaginations both on and off stage. Costume designs, and there are roughly 200 of those, by Clotilde Lerendu and Lucile Charvet live on the knife's edge between the majestic and the quotidian. The costumes require a spark joy and generosity to accelerate them into the fantastical. Needless to say, those sparks are flying on the stage. Lighting design by Léandre Gans requires baffling precision in its execution to transform Clolus's chameleon scenography and, simply put, mission accomplished. Epic theatre, as Festival d'Avignon founder Jean Vilar himself discovered when directing the French premiere of Mother Courage, is a prop based life form. Alice Delarue had her work cut out for her. Her props list, from breakaway bottles, to swords, to luggage, to candles and, quite frankly, would probably give me vertigo. It made the world feel lived in, never cluttered. Lastly Valentin Portron wove music, effects and the highs and lows of poetic execution together seamless in sound design.

Simon Falguière's Le Nid de Cendres relies on theatre's storied past to make an argument for hope and happy endings. It's not an easy argument to be made these days. Cynicism is in, and fairly so. He doesn't try to convince us that it isn't going to be a hard road. There will be death, but there will be life. There will be heartbreak, but there will be love. All along it was clear that the cast didn't want you to leave. Not for ego, because they were convinced they had something worth sharing, and they did. Productions that leave space for imagination leave space for you. There is a space for you in Le Nid de Cendres.

Photo Credit: Simon Gosselin




From This Author - Wesley Doucette

Wesley Doucette is a PhD student in French Literature at the CUNY Grad Center. His research focuses include French cultural institutions such as the Festival d'Avignon and the innovations of administrators... (read more about this author)


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