BWW Review: HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY at Mountain View Center For The Arts
Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story
Written and Performed by Hershey Felder
Directed by Trevor Hay
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
"Remember the moonlight", the last words to Hershey Felder from his dying mother, refers to the dreamlike, evocative movement "Clair de Lune" by composer Claude Debussy and is the starting point for Felder's poignant exploration of Debussy and the city that became his greatest muse. A Paris Love Story, Felder's eighth phenomenal conjuring of great composers, exceeds expectations by incorporating his great gift of storytelling, historical knowledge and virtuoso piano playing with a deep, loving personal connection to Debussy. The result, echoed by Debussy throughout the show, is to "transport one to a world of dreams".
The story begins with at thirteen-year-old Felder visiting his sick mother in the hospital. Six years later she will die at 35 and Hershey will honor their dream of visiting Paris and discovering Debussy's beloved city. Felder then morphs into Debussy wearing a smart 19th century suit to provide the exposition of his life told through the excited eyes of the young Felder. It's a smart plot construct that brilliantly weaves together the connection between stories.
Debussy tells of his childhood and early training, the recognition of his immense talents and his role in the development of a "new musique" that would challenge the established order of the La Belle Époche. His sexual coming of age, dalliances and marriages are recounted His respect and disdain for Wagner, his love of symbolist poets (Verlaine, Mallarmé, Maeterlinck and Rimbaud) and his introduction to Javanese gamelan music all combine to influence Debussy's "impressionistic" style.
Between stories, Felder as Debussy retreats to his piano to serenade us with his sumptuous music. Beautiful 'amuse bouches' of "La Mer" or "Afternoon of the Faun" wash over your senses just as Debussy desired. Felder's simple set of two abutting Parisian bridges and gaslights is enhanced with visually stunning projections of Paris scenes, people and landscapes by Lighting and Projection Designer Christopher Ash.
The young Felder, through Debussy's narrative, traces Debussy's footsteps, walking the beautiful bridges over the Seine (set design by Felder, the elder), talking in the famous historical sites and visiting Debussy's La Rue Frosch flat. He must stand on the five-pointed Point Zero, a small geographic marker near Notre Dame Cathedral from which the distance from Paris to all other places are judged, on March 25th, the day of Debussy's death. Felder honors his mother and his journey of connection and closure is complete.
Debussy sits at his grand piano bathed only in light blue moonlight and plays his most famous composition "Clair de Lune", the third movement of his "Suite bergamasque". It was a sweet, quiet, serene moment that perfectly captured the mood of the evening.
Photos by Christopher Ash