Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE SEPTIÈME JOUR By Meng Jinghui

Adapted from the novel by Yu Hua of the same name, the piece is split between seven days.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE SEPTIÈME JOUR By Meng Jinghui

Eulogies, obituaries, and post-mortems. There are many ways people digest a life ended. It's a daunting task to try to encapsulate someone else's life. The task becomes even more difficult when the existence you're attempting to reckon with is your own. Meng Jinghui's Le Septième Jour, now in performance at the Cloître des Carmes, shows a recently deceased man grappling with his life.

Adapted from the novel by Yu Hua of the same name, the piece is split between seven days. On the first day Yang Fei wakes up to discover that he's missed his cremation appointment. Over the course of the following days we see his life. There is his wife, his father, his neighbors, and his friends. On day six we are introduced to Oedipus and the Sphinx. I'll concede that this doesn't quite register. On the seventh day the actors sit at a table and eat noodles.

Le Septième Jour is a fairly unconvincing mediation on death. Despite hoards of skeletons that fill out the Cloître des Carmes, I never got the sense that mortality was being grappled with. For Yang Fei, it was one of a line of inconveniences that have shaped his life. Other set elements, as staged by Zhang Wu, similarly baffled. Large posters of Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara lean on the upstage wall. A large dinosaur sculpture distracts audience attention and is never referenced. Large stone spheres similarly exist under the cloister arches. There is perhaps some commentary here on eternity, but with so much to untangle in the plot proper, I left them behind.

Lighting by Wang Qi is strong. Effects like detachable florescent lighting in a refrigerator work as good theatre, if they still lack in coherent drama. Music by Hua Shan and Wang Chuang, performed live off-stage, gives the proceedings a rock atmosphere. Though with Zhang Xinnan's cloister shaking sound design, no atmospheric range was ever attempted. Additionally, technical issues and obscuring smoke made the surtitles difficult to follow.

These complaints should be qualified by admitting that comedy doesn't translate easily. Le Septième Jour isn't a comedy, but it attempts at wit and broad physical comedy. That these moments didn't register is probably due more to my social background than anything. Most Chinese audience members laughed with the work. At one point two women on my row fell into fits and worked hard to contain themselves, trying to not be the only two people in the theatre in stitches. I'm not sure that such comedy would've rescued the piece for me, but it would have made it easier to contend with.

The saving grace for Le Septième Jour is its cast. In particular Chen Minghao as Yang Fei delivers the work with Shakespearian force. He presents a victim and a perpetrator, someone apathetic and apprehensive about his death. He moves between extravagance in affect and a cool deadpan candor. Other cast members work off of him and he gives them plenty to work with. It's simply unfortunate that such intensity and talent didn't register much thematic depth.

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)

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents THE LINE IS A CURVE By Kae Tempest
July 28, 2022

The 76th Festival d'Avignon officially concluded last night with Kae Tempest's The Line is a Curve at the Cour d'Honneur. This is the fifth album by Tempest. Previous works include Brand New Ancients, which I had the benefit of seeing some years back at New York's St. Ann's Warehouse. Their work in that instance was a transporting piece of storytelling. It was a very sober affair. The Line is a Curve started that way, but quickly became the cathartic rock concert to end the annual Festival.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents SILENT LEGACY By Maud Le Pladec and Jr Maddripp
July 28, 2022

Silent Legacy, now in performance at the Festival d'Avignon's Cloître des Cèlestins, asks questions about points of exchange. The relationship between the dancer and choreographer is complex. Literarily focused theatre's collaborative quality sometimes benefits from the boundaries made by script writing. In this way, the playwright has a product outside the performance. In most instances with dance, the work can only exist within the body of the performer. Silent Legacy presents its audience with two such points of exchange.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents RICHARD II By Christophe Rauck
July 25, 2022

According to a poll taken in 2016, a little more than half of all British people have seen or read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. That number dips just below half for Macbeth and Midsummer. The Tempest rounds out the Top 10 at 22% engagement. Deep down in this list at 7%, tucked between Merry Wives of Windsor and Love's Labour's Lost, is Richard II. This obscurity was seen as a feature not a bug for Jean Vilar when he opened the first Festival d'Avignon with Richard II in 1947. Since this performance, the play has become something of a hallmark of French theatre. This year, Christophe Rauck adds his own directorial vision at the Festival's Gymnase du Lycée Aubanel with Micha Lescot in the title role.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents DU TEMPS OÙ MA MÈRE RACONTAIT By Ali Chahrour
July 25, 2022

One of the most famous images of 20th century theatre is that of Brecht's Mother Courage who, when told she needs to remain incognito when her son is shot, offers a silent scream. In Ali Chahrour's Du Temps Où Ma Mère Racontait, now in performance at Avignon Université's Cour Minérale, Laïla Chahrour similarly unhinges her jaw into a scream, though it's anything but silent. Undergirded by musicians playing behind her, she cries into the audience, her voice rising into the starry sky. In the face of all the tragedy she has explored with her family, it is a resonating moment of catharsis.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE SACRIFICE By Dada Masilo
July 25, 2022

Choreographer Dada Masilo, a South African native, studied dance at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's school in Brussels. While there she developed an appreciation for the grand patrimonial dance-works. Her company, Dance Factory Johannesburg, has made a name for itself through oftentimes-comedic deconstructions of European classics like Swan Lake, and Giselle. In Le Sacrifice Masilo has decided to address a different dance classic, Le Sacre du Printemps. It was a long road to the Festival for Le Sacrifice, now performing in Avignon's Cour du Lycée Saint-Joseph. The piece has been twice canceled due to Covid. While her movement vocabulary lacks in imagination, the performances themselves were thrilling.