Looking through my photos of the Lucernaire from the past few years, I see that sometime between 2014 and 2019 the wording over the entrance was changed. It used to read Centre national d’art et d’essai (National center for art and experimentation), but now it just reads Théâtre Lucernaire. This is not because of any change in status, as far as I know, but simply to be more welcoming for people coming in from the street.
All you loyal readers of my Versailles posts might recall that in 2014 I saw an elaborate production of Molière’s play Le bourgeois gentilhomme (The bourgeois gentleman) with twelve actors, five singers, three dancers and nine musicians on the stage of the Royal Opera House in the Versailles Palace.
In the summer of 2019 I saw a very different (but equally funny) production of the same play at the Lucernaire, performed by eight actors playing the twelve roles. These eight actors were all members of the third graduating class of the School of Dramatic Art of the Lucernaire, a school that was started in 2015 by the actor and stage director Philippe Person.
For this school, auditions are held each year with the intention of forming a “coherent group” of about twenty students, with a minimum age of eighteen. Those who are accepted go through a “demanding and structured” two-year program taught by “many prestigious instructors” from the French theatre scene.
The general director of the Lucernaire, Benoît Lavigne, is quoted in the program notes as saying: “Our students have the rare privilege of serving their apprenticeship at a unique cultural venue in Paris while having the chance to interact with the artists and companies programmed throughout the season.”
At the end of their two-year study program, the students perform in play that runs for two months during the summer at the Lucernaire. In 2019 there were nineteen graduates who took turns playing the roles of Le bourgeois gentilhomme six times a week from the middle of June to the middle of August.
The only trouble with this form of casting is that all the actors are in their early twenties, even in the two roles that Molière intended to be middle-aged or older, namely the pretentious Monsieur Jourdain (played by Molière himself, age 48, at the world premiere in 1670) and his long-suffering wife. The twenty-somethings who played these roles at the Lucernaire did a fine job, but despite their make-up they didn’t look even remotely middle-aged.
Like the title figures of several other Molière plays, Monsieur Jourdain has a lovely daughter whom he tries to marry off to someone she can’t stand, in this case a foppish aristocrat who flatters his ridiculous social-climbing ambitions. The plot revolves around the daughter’s efforts to prevent this, with the help of her boyfriend, her mother and especially the maid, who as usual gets the funniest lines.
By analogy to New York’s “off-Broadway” theater scene, I suppose the Lucernaire could be considered “off-Montparnasse”. It is located in the quiet Notre-Dame-des-Champs quarter, but less than 300 meters (one long block) from Boulevard Montparnasse and barely 800 meters from the theatres on Rue de la Gaîté.
My photos and text in this post are from 2019.