- La Trilogie de la Villégiature by Carlo Goldoni
With its main stage theatre, the Salle Richelieu, under renovation, the Comédie-Française has constructed a temporary theatre building dubbed the Théâtre Éphémère, dexterously placed between the arcades of the Galerie d’Orléans next to the Jardin du Palais Royal. Carlo Goldoni’s rarely produced Holiday Trilogy was its inaugural production. Despite its simplicity, the “ephemeral” theatre is a very impressive architectural accomplishment, as time-lapsed video of its delicate construction attests. Costing nearly €3 million (much of which is to be recouped when the building is dismantled and resold) and taking almost four months to construct, the structure’s design and decoration revels in its temporary purpose, but nonetheless allows the troupe to continue its usual repertory schedule. Fabricated from cross-laminated solid timber, the exterior is adorned simply with a red neon sign, bright red doors, and vertically striped canopies that echo Daniel Buren’s once-controversial columns in the courtyard of the Palais Royal. If for nothing else, the siting of the temporary theatre provides an occasion to reconsider the nature of public art that Buren’s recently renovated work, Les Deux Plateaux (1986), represents. When first installed, Buren’s work incited a rigorous debate about the aesthetics of contemporary art situated in historic sites, just as I. M. Pei’s more famous pyramid later prompted at the Louvre just across the street. In theatrical terms, this same problematic has been the realm of the Comédie-Française almost since its inception, and certainly since the time it permanently arrived at the Salle Richelieu in 1799 (several years after Goldoni’s death in Paris).
Unlike the traditional, more intimate seating arrangement of the Richelieu, with its salle à l’italienne, the interior of the Théâtre Éphémère, which seats about 740, has a steeply raked, frontal disposition more similar to that of the Théâtre National de la Colline, where Alain Françon was director from 1996 to 2010 and where he was celebrated for, among many other accomplishments, his productions of Chekhov. Having just directed Les Trois Sœurs (The Three Sisters) for the Comédie-Française the previous season, Françon’s ambitious four-hour production of Goldoni’s La Trilogie de la villégiature (The Holiday Trilogy, 1761) felt forward-looking, modern, and, certamente, Chekhovian. Like Buren’s columns in the Palais Royal, the modern sits very well with Goldoni, whose later work has an unexpectedly autumnal, ironic quality. In the prefaces to the plays that comprise his “holiday trilogy”—La smanie per la villeggiatura (Off to the Country), Le avventure della villeggiatura (Adventures in the Country), and Il ritorno dalla villeggiatura (Back from the Country)—the author best known for transforming the improvisational hilarity of commedia dell’arte into scripted literature took great pride in his innovative dramatic structure. Each of the three comedies stands on its own dramatically, but when performed as a cycle or as an evening (as they were here) they create a larger action involving the foibles of a common set of characters—among which five sets of lovers—and a dramatic arc, from autumn to winter, to Montenero and back, that admits a bitter play of heartbreaking consequence.
Françon highlighted the Chekhovian tonality of Goldoni’s themes, which seemed all too contemporary: a declining class struggling to maintain a lifestyle of emulation while frantically living off the overextension of credit; the “invisible downstairs” play of servants who better appreciate the sublimity of an escape to the country, but also suffer from their masters’ precarious financial situations; lovers caught between their desire for a suitable connection and their wounded pride at failing to couple according to the rules of the system in which they are inscribed. Taking the time to live with these characters through three dramatic actions that enfold into one, the audience was made to suffer through (and reluctantly...