02 Oct 2018

Claire Berlinski Tackles Molière

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Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Molière – Compagnie Michel B) THEATRE ESPACE MARAIS (2)

Claire Berlinski was writing a book about Foreign Affairs (I forget the detail), and I guess it has not been going well, because apparently poor Claire has had to find another job. She’s auditioned to perform in the French theatre.

The French theatre tradition is genuinely unusual. It’s not the longest unbroken acting tradition in the world—that honor goes to China, with Japanese Kabuki in second place—but it’s the West’s longest uninterrupted theater tradition. Since 1690, when Molière and Racine were at their creative peak, not a single year has passed in Paris in which their works have not been played. Under Louis XIV, wastewater still drained in the open air. Voltaire remarked, bitterly, of Parisian priorities: “They will not begrudge money for a Comic Opera, but will complain about building aqueducts worthy of Augustus.” (Why a man who earned his living by his pen would complain of this schedule of priorities, I do not know.) If you want to understand French culture and literature—as well as the place of literature in French culture—the Comédie Française is the place to start.

Every French schoolkid can recite scenes from Molière and Racine. Come time for the annual baccalaureate exams, French Twitter lights up with hashtags like #niqueracine. Classic theater performs, for the French, the role of the King James Bible in English: Anglophones go to Church to expose themselves to the range and grandeur of their native language. The French go to the theatre.

I was telling myself all of this as I tried to work up the enthusiasm to walk out my apartment, turn left, and just knock on goddamned door of that verkakte theater. It will be so good for you. You will understand France, French, and the French so much more intimately. I opened the window and sniffed: Something about the atmospheric conditions felt wrong. I saw droplets of rain and high clouds. I sat down again.

What got me off my ass was checking my bank balance. It was horrifying. The anxiety that prompted vastly exceeded my stage fright. I had no choice but to march myself over there right then and there and cough up a story about becoming an actress.

RTWT

Break a leg, Claire!

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