Nelida Nassar 09.05.2014
The red carpet was rolled out for Gerard Depardieu, a veteran of some 180 films, and Fanny Ardant, who herself has appeared in 90. They are also highly skilled stage actors, as they proved very convincingly in the closing event of the 2014 Baalbeck International Festival, giving sensational performances in a stylish modern production of Marguerite Duras’s complex drama La Musica Deuxième.
Duras’s 1985 two-character play is a masterly study in regret, forgiveness, and truth. A husband and wife, Michel Nollet and Anne Marie Roche, meet for the first time after separating four years earlier. Ardant, standing somewhat apart and twisting her handbag, shyly asks what the couple should do with the furniture. Becoming less fidgety, she recounts a past affair with a stranger in Paris. By now she has stepped closer to Michel, who is sitting upright in an armchair.
Her blank stare complements an unnatural steadiness in her voice that makes the story at
once riveting and devastating. Depardieu, with a quivering tenderness in his voice, pleads for his ex-wife to stay and rekindle their relationship. He displays a confused vulnerability when, at one point, in his few movements across stage, he hesitantly reaches out to caress her hair. He has a slight stoop and walks hesitantly, as if his knees were buckling under the weight of the rejection.
In this immensely subtle play, filled with reminiscence, seduction, pain, and caustic humor, what is particularly affecting is Ardant’s portrayal of a woman contending with her own hesitation to assume total control of her destiny. A pencil-slim figure in a black and white suit, she totters slightly on first seeing again the love of her life, who is also dressed in black. Their stage presence is striking and their chemistry is palpable. Ardant acts with every inch of her being, resiliently holding her own in the face of Depardieu’s astonishing feminine side, which he conveys with so much finesse and intelligence.
The beautiful staging is strictly minimalist: two red leather club chairs occupy the left side of the stage, and two green armchairs on the right, three floor lights and a couple of credenzas serve as the rest of the setting. The acting, too, is straightforward. Ardant suggests an ordinary woman bewildered by the fact that her own power is combined with an extraordinary fragility. Depardieu effortlessly switches from vulnerability to an exasperated sarcasm, turning boldly macho in the play’s last few moments. The two actors manage to keep up a high level of suspense, challenge, and teasing while still ensuring that their domestic saga resonates with the spectator.
This is a powerful play, compassionate and restrained in the representation of two souls grappling with painful questions. It is about grief, anger and love, about the things that bind us together as couples and the things that drive us apart, and about what it is that makes us human. Throughout, the actors’ voices whisper what cannot be said, interspersed with moments of silence as if they were musical counterpoints. It is not often that one sees a play that appears to be genuinely thinking out loud, having a dialogue both with itself and the audience. But that is the case with Duras’s quiet, moving drama, which is a thoughtful and bruisingly honest attempt to understand the resurfacing of emotions after a separation, and which is offered herein a brilliant, austere production.
The surname Tatiana was substituted to Anne Marie in Lebanon’s performance and in Riga, Latvia the 2014 European Cultural Capital.