To See a Friend Cry (Voir un Ami Pleurer) was performed by Théâtre du Rêve (TdR) last night (4/4)
before a sold-out house at the French Embassy. The play, delivered primarily in French and using subtitles, examines America
through the eyes of five French-speaking Americans, in multiple roles, in their attempts to make their way - in European society
and at home - in a post-9/11 world. It examines both the way "language speaks man" and way you lug your baggage
around in another tongue.
The play's title is taken from a bittersweet song by Jacques Brel and the friend
here is America. If you are looking for delightful cultural confusions of a Dianne Johnson novel you won't find
it in this play. The perception through European eyes is that we are racist, sexist, arrogant, and overweight people, suffering
from our excesses and pride and, though it will please some, sounds like a stereotype, if not a cliché. The playwright,
Olivier Coyette, has taken an exercises-in-style approach popularized by Raymond Queneau, and might be called 99 ways of looking
at America, many of them bad, uses comedy, tragedy, burlesque, songs, poetry, and audiovisuals. This assemblage leads
to some confusion in the storyline as we move from one disparate scene to another. The overt Anti-Americanism in the
opening vignette, where the N-bomb is dropped repeatedly, sounded didactic and forced at times, if not offensive. Working
better were the absurdist dentist waiting room and hilarious scientific presentation scenes (I never thought colorectal cancer
could be rendered funny), where a search for love and a search for certainty, respectively, were LOL. Interspersed were
talking heads segments loosely translated "poor words" or "words of the poor," when the actors individually
laid bare their characters motivations and desires. The first ends with Sondheim's "Our Time" from "Merrily
We Roll Along" and though tuneful and uplifting, placing it here seemed odd since it's the musical's finale and
this show has a way to go. The Abraham and Isaac close to an apocalyptic scene was poignant, with the biblical
reading paired with a listing of the names and ages of many who had died in Iraq.
The acting was top notch, but
especially strong were Carolyn Cook, TdR founder and Chris Kayser. The production, which ran about 90 minutes without intermission,
was ably directed by Valéry Warnotte. The audience registered their approval by calling the cast back twice.
Following the play with subtitles was a visual-mental workout. Though purportedly about American values and feelings,
you may find at times it says a lot more about the French-speaking world. Regardless, their intension was to stimulate
a conversation about cultural relations and for that they are to be applauded.
Sound check: Occasionally
high decibel levels at scene changes
Program notes: Excellent and detailed
Applause meter: 2 hands. Recommended
for those with an interest in international relations and French language students