Ricercar

François Tanguy is the longtime director of Théâtre du Radeau whose experimental escapades at La Fonderie have been making their way around various prestigious venues in France — including Avignon, the Festival d’Automne, and Théâtre de l’Odéon. Ricercar, their most recent production, was presented at the second salle of Théâtre de l’Odéon in conjunction with the Festival d’Automne this year.  I sat in the first row, in a chair that shared a floor with the playing space.  The free-wheeling text was a series of poetic exchanges in several languages — sometimes quite abstract, sometimes quite concrete — reflecting on the capacities and limits of the knowable world, projecting upon an object or person in front of us and than bypassing perceivable referents for those that were perpetually deferred.  The set of the piece literalized the root behind the French word mise-en-scène by underscoring, or so it seemed to me, the simple act of putting together an assembly of scenic elements.  The assembly was modest, cluttered, and did not quite cohere, a putting together of flats, scrims, chrome tables, and chairs in a gathering of light and shadow.  The actors moved on the same plane that they shared with me, occasionally mounting a table for an aria, turning their backs, or moving across differently-lit locations on the stage.  Sometimes they seemed to move consciously into a theatricalized shadow; sometimes they seemed to move out of a designer’s lighting plot into a place that they weren’t supposed to be.  The piece was a kind of babylonian unhinging of the theatrical medium. Speech, sound, movement, light, bodies, and flats isolated playing spaces and then broke them apart, raising them on a temporary plinth, lighting a space where no one played, fabricating the presence of an interlocutor through a perpetual and relentless form of address.  Tanguy’s imagination derives in part from the visual as much as the theatrical arts; unlike so many experiments across these media, though, this work made deconstructed use of a space that remains a theatre and of actors that remain theatrically skilled.  As I left l’Odéon to pick up Jack from a birthday party whose timing matched that of a Sunday matinée, the most vivid memory was that of 60 plus female actor powering through a plea for attention amid a space whose disintegration threatened to steal focus.  The focus stayed with her speech nonetheless, propelled as it was by a vocal pace that barreled through the theatre and by a vocal resonance that knew how to hit its back wall.

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