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Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents FLESH By Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola

Flesh reminds us of this, but it lets us laugh at the attempt.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents FLESH By Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola

Most times in Avignon, when a work is called something ominous like Blood, Bones, or, as is the case for Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola's new work, Flesh, the worst is to be expected. The experience might be transformative, but it'll be a taxing journey. Happily, the two artists tackle questions of our relationships to our bodies with dark humor. Set in four vignettes at Avignon's Gymnase du Lycée Mistral, Flesh is Avignon's answer to Charlie Chaplin.

Flesh's first sequence is of a young man going to see who we presume to be his grandfather in the hospital on his deathbed. He is put in a full PPE suit. While sitting alone by his unresponsive grandfather's hospital bed, his cellphone rings. He can't get it to unlock with his gloves on. For a moment he considers using the sleeping sick man's hand. He thinks better of this. Then, finally when he's been able to take off his gloves, the phone's ringtone mingles with the noise of the heart monitor flat lining. He turns the phone off.

The next sequence is of a wealthy couple. The man is covered in bandages from plastic surgery. He hands the woman a gift, scissors. She releases his bandages. He's pleased. She isn't. They discover that something's gone wrong and his face is moldable like clay. He is transformed from a caricature to a monster. The third scene is of a woman going to virtual reality arcade. She chooses "The Titanic Adventure." She is plunged into the story from the film. Lastly, four people mourn the death of a bartender, perhaps she's their mother. There is some disagreement from the outset, but when the ashes are fought over, the tension heats to a boil.

The company performs a remarkable balancing act. They allow the world to be introduced, build an atmosphere, and play with theme, without the scene either feeling like a single punch line, or outstaying its welcome. The actors convey a great deal without any dialogue. Muriel Legrand almost stops the show with her hilarious "Titanic Adventure." Her commitment to this dream immersive experience moves between touching and absurd. Jonas Wertz as the arcade attendee performs his function of "not paid enough for this crap" with convincing deadpan humor. Aurelio Mergola communicates much with his body, as he has to perform without dialogue or a face in the second scene. Lastly, Sophie Linsmaux is irresistible as both the horrified wife and then, in the final sequence, as a pregnant woman on a mission.

The performance transitions with a curtain that rolls in between sequences. It covers a raised platform, calling to mind a car showroom. The curtain has slots in it, so atmospheric lighting can be seen on the other side. Lighting designer Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin helps carve out the atmosphere, helping us understand when we are in a workplace comedy, a New Yorker cartoon, or a dark sitcom. Set design by Aurélie Deloche, while not minimalist, is simple enough for quick changes. Lastly, sound design by Eric Ronsse is hilariously precise. Whoever is responsible for making the ringtone in the open sequence "Mambo Number Five," bravo.

We are all held responsible for our bodies. Though no matter how much we tell ourselves we're the ones in control, our bodies will continue to shock us. We will undermine it and it will undermine us. We throw newer and newer technologies at it in an attempt to transcend our human flesh. It is a losing battle. Flesh reminds us of this, but it lets us laugh at the attempt. On the 400th anniversary of Molière's birth, it's good to remind audiences that comedy can deal with serious business.

Photo Credit: Christophe Raynaud de Lage




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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