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French Theatre Today

The View from New York, Paris, and Avignon

Turk, Edward B.

Publication Year: 2011

 In 2005 literary and film critic Edward Turk immersed himself in New York City’s ACT FRENCH festival, a bold effort to enhance American contact with the contemporary French stage. This dizzying crash course on numerous aspects of current French theatre paved the way for six months of theatregoing in Paris and a month’s sojourn at the 2006 Avignon Festival. In French Theatre Today he turns his yearlong involvement with this rich topic into an accessible, intelligent, and comprehensive overview of contemporary French theatre. Situating many of the nearly 150 stage pieces he attended within contexts and timeframes that stretch backward and forward over a number of years, he reveals French theatre during the first decade of the twenty-first century to be remarkably vital, inclined toward both innovation and concern for its audience, and as open to international influence as it is respectful of national tradition.
French Theatre Today provides a seamless mix of critical analysis with lively description, theoretical considerations with reflexive remarks by the theatremakers themselves, and matters of current French and American cultural politics. In the first part, “New York,” Turk offers close-ups of French theatre works singled out during the ACT FRENCH festival for their presumed attractiveness to American audiences and critics. The second part, “Paris,” depicts a more expansive range of French theatre pieces as they play out on their own soil. In the third part, “Avignon,” Turk captures the subject within a more fluid context that is, most interestingly, both eminently French and resolutely international. The Paris and Avignon chapters contain valuable and well-informed contextual and background information as well as descriptions of the milieus of the Avignon Festival and the various neighborhoods in Paris where he attended performances, information that readers cannot find easily elsewhere. Finally, in the spirit of inclusiveness that characterizes so much new French theatre and to give a representative account of his own experiences as a spectator, Turk rounds out his survey with observations on Paris’s lively opera scene and France’s wealth of circus entertainments, both traditional and newly envisioned.
With  his shrewd assessments of contemporary French theatre, Turk conveys an excitement and an affection for his topic destined to arouse similar responses in his readers. His book’s freshness and openness will reward theatre enthusiasts who are curious about an aspect of French culture that is inadequately known in this country, veteran scholars and students of contemporary world theatre, and those American theatre professionals who have the ultimate authority and good fortune to determine which new French works will reach audiences on these shores.


Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

Which contemporary French stage works have you seen? If you are a casual Francophile, you are likely to mention Yasmina Reza’s “Art,” a smart comedy that was a box- office hit when it played in English translation on Broadway in 1998. Or her amusing God of Carnage, a darling of the New York critics in 2009 and the winner of ...

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pp. xv-xvi

For making time to speak with me about their work, I express warm gratitude to Jean- Marie Besset, Anne Delb

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pp. xvii-xxix

In late November 2007 Time magazine’s European edition ran a cover story titled “The Death of French Culture.” The reporter, Donald Morrison, lamented that “France today is a wilting power in the global cultural marketplace,” and he cited a recent poll in Le Figaro Magazine showing that only 20 percent of Americans considered culture ...

Part 1: New York

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1. Border-crossings

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pp. 3-21

Ariane Mnouchkine’s Le dernier caravansérail: odyssées (The Last Caravan- Stop: Odysseys) is a gripping saga of the plight of political refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Chechnya, Bosnia, and parts of Africa. It was both the centerpiece of the annual Lincoln Center Festival in July 2005 and the kickoff event for ACT FRENCH— ...

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2. Star Power, Gallic Style

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pp. 22-37

In France, major actors typically travel between the worlds of the theatre and the cinema with more ease and regularity than their American counterparts. ACT FRENCH enabled New York audiences to bask in the live presence of three glamorous performers whose work is known on this side of the Atlantic mainly via film and ...

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3. Three Fresh Voices

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pp. 38-60

It is frequently said that the promise of contemporary American theatre lies in the creative hands and minds of our nation’s minorities. The contributions of African American, Asian American, Latino, gay, and feminist playwrights have, indeed, over the past several decades transformed and revitalized the American theatrical ...

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4. From Dialogue to Parole

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pp. 61-76

The verbally and viscerally scorching performances of Isabelle Huppert in Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (chapter 2) and of the six actresses in the staged reading of Koffi Kwahulé’s Misterioso-119 (chapter 3) were a tantalizing foretaste of what I would soon recognize as a distinctive tendency of current writing for the French stage. This ...

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5. Edgy and Cool

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pp. 77-100

In addition to the dazzling works representing theatre of la parole, ACT FRENCH treated New Yorkers to choice specimens of another leading strain of stage pieces, one that might simply be called ‘media theatre.’ These were experimental works—by such younger creative artists as Philippe Quesne and Pascal Rambert, and by ...

Part 2: Paris

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6. Great Classics Revisited

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pp. 103-133

The variety and quantity of stage performances available on any given day in Paris are staggering. During a typical week of my six- month stay in the City of Light, I was able to choose from 479 events playing at 172 venues.1 Most of these shows took place in fairly conventional theatre spaces, large and small. Yet just as integral to ...

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7. Boulevard, Experimental, and In-between

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pp. 134-173

What visitor to Paris does not respond sentimentally to the sight of a Morris column? The City of Light boasts 733 of these imposing, sometimes rotating, pillars that display eye- catching posters for nightclub shows, concerts, movies, and boulevard plays. They are as much a fixture of the Paris streetscape as are the carts of pretzel and ...

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8. Three Prodigious Artists

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pp. 174-219

Among the literary dramatists who are revitalizing French theatre today, three figures stand out for their originality, fecundity, and stature: Michel Vinaver, Valère Novarina, and Olivier Py. Each is a dominant figure in what we described in chapter 3 as theatre of la parole. In their resistance to language’s debasement by commercial ...

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9. Cultural Diversity (I): Ethnicities

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pp. 220-237

Just after ACT FRENCH began in New York, I saw a remarkable new French- language film that was showing at the IFC Center near Washington Square: Abdellatif Kechiche’s L’esquive (Games of Love and Chance, 2004). The Tunisian- born Kechiche (b. 1960) would become better known in this country two years later when his next ...

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10. Cultural Diversity (II): Operas and Circuses

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pp. 238-256

Socially driven plots and neo-expressionist scene painting. The boulevard and the experimental. Tradition- bound revivals and provocative riffs on the classics. One- person stand- up and big- cast spectacles. Extolments of the Word and dance- text- video hybrids. As the preceding four chapters have shown, the variety of contemporary ...

Part 3: Avignon

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11. A Festival Turns Sixty

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pp. 259-296

Each July a small medieval- walled city in Provence hosts one of the grandest theatre jamborees on the planet. For three and a half weeks, from 10 A.m. to well after midnight, its winding streets and picturesque public squares swarm with festival goers of all ages and of numerous nationalities. Avignon’s year- round population is about ...

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12. Recap and Coda: French Theatre Tomorrow

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pp. 297-306

The snapshot of Stefan Kaegi’s Cargo Sofia- Avignon in chapter 11 returns us to the multilingual, transnational masterwork with which we began this exploration of contemporary French theatre: Ariane Mnouchkine’s Le dernier caravansérail: odyssées (The Last Caravan- Stop: Odysseys). By coincidence, Mnouchkine’s film adaptation ...


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pp. 307-342

For Further Reading

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pp. 343-352


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pp. 353-367

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299933

Page Count: 367
Publication Year: 2011