Pierre Dux, one of the most illustrious members of the “Maison de Molière” habitually compared the Comédie Française to an “old lady who has shown through the centuries an incomparable solidity”. This pretty metaphor underlines perfectly what used to be the spirit of such an institution: preserving the greatness of the past while keeping an eye on the evolution of contemporary production. During the last seasons it seems that the direction has sometimes slightly deviated from this venerable outline.
The production of Innocence by Denis Marleau was supposed to be a rejuvenation course for the Comédie Française. Does an old lady become younger, when she has a facelift? Not more so than the Maison de Molière when it chooses to work on a text of Doa Loher! The play is difficult to summarise: too many things happen within different stories that are not always linked. Fadoul and Elisio work in the port of a huge city; Frau Haberstatt, a poor lonely lady, tries to get a bit of attention by any means possible; Rosa is trapped between her cantankerous and capricious mother and her sinister grave digger of a husband; finally, Ella, a philosopher, discusses the absurdity of the world. What a copious meal! A little indigestible for the public, who feels confused among all the characters’ speeches that are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, but also sometimes too long-winded. Ella’s wild imaginings sound particularly hollow, as if philosophy is only a succession of paradoxes. Nevertheless, the admirable talent of Cecile Brune makes the long tirades more than pleasant to hear. The beauty of her hoarse voice and her unusual diction bring to the text the poetry and the depth it lacks.
Cecile Brune is not indeed the only talented actress of the play; all the actors are pretty good: Daniel Lebrun is incisive and witty, Claude Mathieu very restrained in her madness, Pauline Méreuze, Sébastien Pouderouxa and Pierre Hancisse – the “young guard” of the company – are full of promise. They all listen closely to each other, remaining faithful to the motto of the firm: Simul et Singulis ([in it] both together and apart). Their scenic presence is all the more remarkable since the production does not show them to advantage. Denis Marleau, reputed for his audacity has been this time very common. It might be excessive to say outmoded but the line is thin between this show and old-fashioned theatre. The videos and the music do not compensate for the lack of movement from the actors. They are on stage as static as Sarah Bernhardt was a century ago!
Sometimes innovation for innovation’s sake can have the reverse effect.