This week’s post has been contributed by Annie Parker, my friend and trusted proof-reader, without whom my texts would be full of grammatical errors and mistakes. Thank you so much for sharing your Commedia dell’Arte impressions with all of us, Annie!
Saint-Pons-de-Thomière is a lovely place to visit. Thus, when we saw posters and flyers for this performance, it took very little persuasion to convince us to go:
Before I go any further, let me forewarn you that the photos you will find here will not be in any way up to the quality that you have come to expect in this blog. These were taken with my little, outdated cellphone, and the first several were taken through the windshield of our moving car. (Don’t worry! I wasn’t driving!)
The drive from Saint-Chinian to St Pons is especially beautiful, because most of it takes you through the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc. These pictures in no way come close to showing you how truly beautiful it is, but at least they’ll give you some concept of it:
And then, almost without transition, there we were in St Pons!
A major reason that St Pons fascinates and attracts us is that there are entire sections where the sidewalks are made of marble – not just scraps and pebbles of marble, but slabs of incredibly beautiful marble. We looked in awe at these beautiful sidewalks, wondering whether perhaps we should have removed our shoes before walking on them, but in St Pons they seem to take them thoroughly for granted.
They even have a couple of marble benches, one of which is made of the wonderful red marble that comes from this area:
After hunting around for a bit, trying to figure out exactly where the performance was taking place, we finally saw chairs set up in a lovely courtyard behind the Mairie, complete with toilet facilities
as well as a mini “bistrot”, serving drinks and small things to eat:
As you can see from the photo above, we got there quite early – the seats were empty – but not for long:
The audience was having a great time, chattering away, but some of us who were looking at the stage noticed a rather comic character sneakily attempting to get our attention:
(Note how few people actually are focussing on him!) But ultimately the total audience was brought to attention by a woman making announcements – and then the show started in earnest. Almost immediately, the – well, he was something between a buffoon and a clown – captured everyone’s attention by clambering off the stage, into the audience:
Oh! The tension and attention that creates — the great fear (at least on my part): will I be the next victim?!
In case you were wondering about the title, “Etre Ou Ne Pas Etre”, the show was centred around Shakespeare soliloquies:
But it was also what my husband referred to as “a two-character show with one actor” – and thus another aspect of “to be or not to be” was created: as the play progresses, we discover that the comic character we have gotten to know a bit is a character created by an actor who has a dream of putting on a one-man show of the most important Shakespearean soliloquies.
He is, however, having great difficulty finding anyone to back him in this endeavour. In an attempt to invigorate his performance, he brings his voice down to a low, hoarse, croaking quality and throws on an old hat that he has discovered – thereby becoming the comic character that we have already gotten to know.
As the show progresses, there are physical tussles between the two characters (behind the screen), each trying to take control of the other, complete with bangs and booms; curtains jostling around, ‘showing’ the struggle ensuing behind them; hands leaping up above the screen or being pulled submissively back from between the curtains; with one or another of the characters periodically appearing to the audience, only to be dragged back behind the screen by the ‘other’ character. It was a wonderful piece of pantomime!
In the end, the comic character submits to the actor . . . or does he?
The enthusiasm of the audience, with vigorous applause, punctuated by cries of “Bravo!” brought Luca Franceschi, the actor, comic, and creator of the show back for repeated curtain calls, all immensely deserved, as far as we were concerned.
Strangely, the drive back home seemed even more beautiful, possibly because of the different perspective . . . possibly because of the evening shadows . . . possibly because we had been emotionally opened up by the performance. Fortunately, it was still light enough outside to take a couple of additional pictures.
Good bye, St Pons! Thank you for a wonderful afternoon!