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Reviewed by:
  • The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
  • Beth Cleary
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Adapted from the Victor Hugo novel by Robert Rosen, Steven Epp and Paul Walsh. Théâtre de la Jeune Lune, Minneapolis. 26 November 1995.

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Figure 1.

Esmeralda (Sarah Agnew) and Quasimodo (Dominique Serrand) in the Théâtre de la Jeune Lune’s stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, directed by Robert Rosen. Photo: Michal Daniel.

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Figure 2.

Esmeralda (Sarah Agnew) and Paquette (Barbara Berlovitz Desbois) in the Théâtre de la Jeune Lune’s stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, directed by Robert Rosen. Photo: Michal Daniel.

In his 1831 preface to Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo invokes a word hand-carved in a dark recess of one of the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral: Anankh (“fatality”). This memory-trace of Anankh was the inspiration for the fictional Quasimodo, Hugo’s so-called “ideal of grotesqueness,” the hunchback bell-ringer of Notre-Dame in 1482. Quasimodo is a quintessentially Romantic figure, around whom Hugo built a sprawling critique of tyranny, philistinism, and the cruelty we visit on each other in the name of God and country. Quasimodo’s love for the gypsy girl Esmerelda pits him against his surrogate father, cathedral archdeacon Dom Frollo, whose repressed lusts for Esmerelda manifest themselves in sadomasochistic schemes that send her finally to the gallows. Esmerelda is the virtuous heroine at the novel’s center; she is also the ground for fatal battles between church and state, soldier and artist, priest and suppliant.

Théâtre de la Jeune Lune is an ensemble of theatre artists known for their adaptations of classic literary texts. TJL’s latest work adapts Victor Hugo’s novel along with liberal and intelligent quotations from the 1923 and 1939 American film adaptations. The intertextual richness of the production is further enhanced by quotations from mummers’ plays, puppetry, and commedia dell’arte—creating a performance assemblage which is, on the whole, enormously successful. [End Page 372]

TJL’s performance space is a roughly-fitted former warehouse in Minneapolis. The Hunchback designers do not play the space for its obvious associations with a cathedral interior, but instead configure the audience around a central playing area, representing Hugo’s lovingly described Île de la Cité. Actors wheel scenic elements into the playing area, and a miniature illuminated cut-out city descends periodically from the clouds, forcing actors to negotiate the “grid” of Paris as it hangs under and over them. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame emerges like a giant pushup toy from a simple stage-base, its rose window midsection lifting first, and its twin towers pushing up into the mid-air of the warehouse. The material history of Paris which Hugo describes as a cycle of emanations and disfigurements found form in the miniature architectural cut-outs, and in how actors’ bodies and scenic objects filled and flowed from the space.

TJL’s production moves the Hunchback story with delightful rapidity through the imaginative space of Paris, inspired by Hugo’s cinematic imagination and a motion picture camera’s field of vision. The carts which carry whole scenes on and off—functioning in turn as altars, lovers’ chambers, and gallows carts—suggest the portable playing-stages of the medieval theatre. Esmerelda’s beloved Phoebus is a delightful version of the braggart soldier from commedia dell’arte; Paquette the mother-harlot signals Mother Courage as she serves out her sentence as cart-puller to the King’s Executioner, himself a creature from Genet’s s/m milieux. Scenic objects become symbolic agents: the character Gringoire uses a child’s chair, seat of innocence, to fence with an interrogating Frollo; the undisclosed baby shoe around Esmerelda’s neck is “born” when its twin is proffered by Esmerelda’s long lost m/other, Paquette.

The TJL ensemble members in the major roles display the company’s customary physical vigor and prowess, using a precise and varied gestural vocabulary, as well as demonstrating the musicality and muscularity of their voices. The performances of Sarah Agnew (Esmerelda), Stephen...

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pp. 372-374
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