Yasmina Reza Comedy at St James Cavalier in November
God of Carnage is funny because spectators get to know what each character is really thinking under a sincere, or false-sincere, passive cover. This is how critics of the original French play greeted Le Dieu du Carnage when it was shown in its stage and cinematic version in English. Eventually, once a bottle of scotch gets consumed, the characters admit to their feelings, and surprisingly, the play still remains funny. That is where the brilliance of the writing comes in.
Yasmina Reza, as author and a playwright, is, first and foremost, an actor. Her plays have been described as acting showcases, displaying a real understanding of the relationship between actor and script. This is how Don Leavitt defines the French playwright who has received worldwide recognition. With an ear for what works on stage, her dialogue is often sharp. She knows what actors can do with their roles. As a result, Reza’s plays resonate with actors including some of the biggest names on Broadway and in Hollywood. Audience interest in her works has helped to make Yasmina Reza one of the most important figures in late-twentieth century theatre.
Alliance française de Malte-Mediterranée is proud to be associated with this French author of world fame the first two weekends of this November at St James Theatre in Valletta with Alla tal-Qirda, translated into Maltese by Professor Anthony Aquilina from the French original. Besides the prestige and the honour of joining so many other countries in enjoying this play in their native language, the producers feel that Yasmina Reza will bring to Maltese audiences the latest overtures of modern theatre in its full bloom. Reza’s plays have been translated into 35 languages and performed in theatres around the world including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Theatre of Almeida, the Schiller Theatre and the Schaubühne in Berlin, the Burgteater of Vienna, the Royal Theatre of Stockholm as well as many well-known venues from Moscow to Broadway.
In the able hands of director Lino Farrugia, whose brilliant career includes the staging of authors such as Eduardo de Filippo, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Ayckbourn, Lorca, Ebejer, and others, the Maltese cast will feature four formidable actors whose recent performances have lifted them into a deserved acclaim of successful characters with social themes. These are Jes Camilleri, Charlotte Grech, Chris Spiteri and Shirley Blake.
Yasmina Reza was born in1959 in Paris, the daughter of a Hungarian violinist mother and a successful businessman of Russian-Iranian descent. Reza’s artistic talents led her to literature and drama. She studied theatre at University Paris X in Nanterre, and later pursued intensive actor’s training at Paris’s internationally renowned Jacques Lecoq Drama School. As a working actress in France, Reza won roles in contemporary and classic productions and in between performances she began to write her own plays. She completed her first play, Conversations after a Burial in 1987 and was awarded the Molière Award for Best Author. Reza has also written screenplays for films and a number of novels which have been also published in the USA, Japan, and South America as well as in Europe. In 2010 she directed her first film Chicas starring Emmanuelle Seigner.
Reza’s international acclaim, however came with her third play. Since its Paris debut in 1995, Art has earned an estimated $300 million worldwide and won numerous awards, including the Molière Award for Best Author, Best Play and Best Production; the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1997; and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1998.
Reza could do no wrong. She was awarded the Molière Award for Best Fringe Production, for her fourth play, The Unexpected Man, premiered in 1995. Reza also penned the critically acclaimed Life X 3 (2000) and A Spanish Play (2004), both of which have been produced in theatres throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. Her latest work Comment vous racontez la partie was published last year and will be performed on stage at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin this month (October 2012).
Stars from Sean Connery to Robert de Niro are attracted to Reza’s works because these are character-driven and focused on relationships, or the lack thereof, and the tensions that arise in the normal course of even the most mundane of human interactions. Fabienne Pascaud of Telerama once wrote that famous actors dream of parts in Reza’s plays because of her masterful use of silence, In a play, words are parentheses to the silences, believes Reza.
In 2006 God of Carnage became the next instant hit when it premiered on stage in Zürich, and in Paris two years later starring Isabelle Huppert. A translation into English by Christopher Hampton was put up at the Gielgud Theatre in London, also in 2008. Last year, Roman Polanski directed its cinematic version, Carnage, starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet. As with earlier plays Carnage follows the formula of taking a group of upper-middle-class characters stripping them, with algebraic precision, to their lonely, frightened ids. In this instance farce trumps formula, and the play is the richer for it
Before the one-act play begins, two eleven-year-old children, Ferdinand and Bruno, get involved in an argument and Ferdinand knocks out two of Bruno’s teeth with a stick. That night, the parents of both children meet to discuss the matter. Ferdinand’s father, Alain is a lawyer who is always on his mobile phone while his wife, Annette, is her husband’s wealthy showcase. Bruno’s father, Michel, is a self-made wholesaler with a sick mother. Michel’s wife, Véronique, is writing a book. As the evening progresses, the rendez-vous degenerates into the four getting into irrational arguments, and their discussion falls into the loaded topics of mistrust of women, racial prejudice and homophobia. The play reaches dramatic moments when Annette suddenly loses her composure and commits what everybody else tries hard to avoid in public. Audiences laugh but Reza maintains that her plays are not exactly comedies. They are funny tragedies, she retorts.
Alla tal-Qirda, adapted for a Maltese audience without losing any of its originality by its stage director Lino Farrugia, delivers the cathartic release of watching other people’s marriages go boom; a study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct. The play, a satisfyingly primitive entertainment with an intellectual veneer, won the Olivier Award in London for best new comedy. It is subtle in its shifting ballet of emotions and loyalties among the irritable quartet. As alcohol replaces coffee and outer garments are removed, sides of combat blur. The men gang up on the women, the women gang up on the men, and the husbands and wives wind up, briefly, changing partners.
God of Carnage, Alla tal-Qirda,a one-act play by Yasmina Reza in Maltese, is being staged at St James Cavalier on November 2,3,4 and 9, 10, 11 at 8 pm (November 3 performance starts at 7.30 pm). Tickets at Euro 15 each are available as usual from St James Cavalier or online.
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