Je tremble

One of the dreamy things about being in Europe is getting to see storied artists and storied artistic sites about whom I have only read. While I have seen several of Peter Brook’s productions on their international tours, I had never mean to his Parisian atelier, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. This fall, he and his producers decided to bring in Joël Pommerat’s creation with Compagnie Louis Brouillard, Je tremble, a piece that unraveled the conventions of cabaret from the inside. Since Michael was out of town, our friends Jane and Eol, volunteered to watch both kids so that I could race up and back for a matinée. After finding our seats between the crumbling, B.A.M.-like (or is B.A.M. Bouffe-like?) walls of the theatre, the piece opened with a riveting master of ceremonies who delivered his schtick in a quiet dead-pan, playing against the hyperbolic conventions of the MC role. He informed us that, at some point in the evening, he would die; he was casual as he continued his welcome, reminding us that “nous sommes ensemble.” That phrase would repeat itself a few times as the show proceeded, as would the MC’s decision to call up a strobe-light and indulge in a few jazzy dance steps just as things were getting their most menacing. The show went from “act” to “act,” landing on varieties of figures. There was a lone woman onstage who directly addressed the audience in a lament-filled disquisition that asked us to tell her, truthfully, whether we really thought we had a future, truthfully, did we think we could imagine that there would be one, really, a future, could that possibly be?…the monologue went on and on, varying the question and its amplification but largely staying in the same intense upper register. While the tone stayed the same, its repetition meant that our relationship to it changed. The woman’s lament came across as earnest then humorous then loony then prophetic then poignant and then earnest again as she continued on relentlessly. Other episodes alighted upon a daughter and a mother, the former recounting the latter’s decimation as a factory worker for her entire life. The giggles with which she told of her mother’s trials—personne n’ait pas fait pour ça—were horrific. More encounters between family members and spouses came and went between spectacular interruptions from the lights, the cabaret music, and the strobe. Oh, and yes, the MC did die and got up and died again. There was nothing technologically fancy about the production; it seemed to be settled quite firmly in older forms, effects, and themes, stylized with just bit more 21st century detachment as each character found his or her own way to fall off the edge.

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