The Théâtre Antoine is a large Italian-style (horseshoe-shaped) theatre dating from the year 1866. In its first decades it quickly became famous for hosting the first Paris productions of controversial young foreign authors such as Ibsen, Strindberg and Tolstoï, among others.
In the nineteenth century, when people were somewhat smaller than they are today, the Théâtre Antoine could apparently seat up to nine hundred people. It currently seats 799 on four levels, though they advise people with vertigo to avoid the upper two balconies.
Right next to the box office in the entrance hall, the Théâtre Antoine has a model of the auditorium with the exact seat numbers, so you can see where you will be sitting. Most older theatres used to have models like this, but I can’t recall seeing so many of them lately.
The play I saw at the Théâtre Antoine was Drôle de Genre (A funny gender) by Jade-Rose Parker, which from their advertising I thought was going to be some kind of superficial boulevard comedy.
Also, I misread the title at first, adding a -d- where there wasn’t one, so I thought it read Drôle de Gendre, which would have been ‘A funny son-in-law’. This was not totally implausible, since one of the four characters is introduced as the future son-in-law of two of the others.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, French comedies are notoriously difficult for us poor foreigners to understand, even those of us who have some acquaintance with this mysterious language. Often I manage to understand most of what is being said — up to but not including the punchlines of the jokes. So I know what the situation is but not what everyone is laughing about. This is of course a bit frustrating, but is in the nature of comedy, since to make people laugh you have to say something they weren’t expecting.
Fortunately, Drôle de Genre turned out to be not just a comedy, but more of a comédie dramatique (or dramédie, as they are called lately), which for me had the effect of making it much easier to understand.
But first, it became obvious that the two older actors were very well-known to most of the audience, especially Victoria Abril, who was greeted with applause the moment she appeared on stage, and even more when she did a strenuous dance ending with the splits, which were remarkable because she was 63 at the time.
Her character in the play, Carla, has been married for thirty years to a politician, François, who is running for re-election, perhaps as the mayor of one of the twenty arrondissements of Paris. When he finally gets off the phone, she breaks the news to him that she has cancer — prostate cancer. It takes him a while to realize what this means, that his wife of thirty years is actually a man, or at least used to be, before having a sex-changing operation in Brazil many years before.
They have a lot to talk about for the rest of the first act, such as why he never noticed (“The surgeon who took care of me did a remarkable job”) and why she never told him (“You never asked”) and whether this revelation meant that he was homosexual (he turns out to be a fervent homophobe, and is horrified at the thought).
The second act begins with the arrival of their adopted daughter, Louise, played by Jade-Rose Parker, who is also the author of the play. She announces that they are going to be grandparents. They of course want to know who the father is.
The young man promptly arrives, and turns out to be a young politician who is running against François in the election. By the end of the second act, both couples have split up, and Louise has become estranged from her adoptive parents.
The third act is very brief. It starts out just like the first, word for word, except that when François asks what kind of cancer his wife has, she says it is breast cancer, leaving the audience to debate on the way home whether it would have been better for her to lie about it from the start and avoid all the hassles.
On the way out, I bought a copy of the text of Drôle de Genre. When I read it the next morning, it served to confirm that I had in fact understood most of it — and that it is an excellent, well-crafted play.
My photos and text in this post are from 2023.
See more posts on theatres in Paris.