I was reminded of this small theater in France by an outstanding new production of the opera From the House of the Dead by Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), which premiered at the Frankfurt Opera in April 2018. Among other innovations, the stage director David Hermann added a silent character of “a young woman”, performed by the dancer Gal Fefferman in a bright red dress. At the beginning of the opera, the young woman is arrested along with her lover, the writer Alexandr Petrovič Gorjančikov. For about half the opera, she stands bound and gagged under a spotlight on a table at the back of the stage, watching Alexandr and the other prisoners but unable to intervene in any way.
This opera staging in Frankfurt reminded me of the play Tentation (Temptation) by the Catalan playwright Carles Batlle (born 1963), which I had seen in 2006 at the Théâtre du Saulcy in Metz. In this play, the author manages to build up and sustain dramatic tension despite the fact that four of the five scenes are monologues. The first is by Hassan, a middle-aged Moroccan man who has entered Spain illegally and hopes for assistance from Guilem, the son of a Spaniard he had known decades before during the filming of Lawrence of Arabia in Morocco. The monologue is addressed to Guilem, who is in the next room and may or may not be listening. It turns out he was taking a shower at least part of the time.
A young woman, Aixa, has two monologues which she addresses to a video camera, presumably for later viewing by Guilem. She is projected part of the time onto a gauze in front of the stage, so she is visible sometimes live, sometimes projected and often both at the same time. It gradually develops that Aixa is Hassan’s daughter. She is also in Spain illegally, having fled a forced marriage in Morocco. Hassan then turns out to have died in some mysterious way, perhaps an accident or perhaps murder. Aixa feels guilty, in any case. Her dilemma, in addition to being in the clutches of the increasingly unscrupulous Guilem, is that she wants to give her father a decent burial (shades of Antigone), but if she does she will blow her own cover as an illegal immigrant and risk deportation.
Guilem has the last monologue. It is addressed to Aixa, but she is gagged and chained by her wrists to the bed frame, so she cannot respond, at least not verbally.
The Théâtre du Saulcy is on the campus of Paul Verlaine University and was opened in 1998. It has seats for 144 spectators and is run by the Cultural Action Service of the University.
They have quite a full program of professional and amateur theater. Admission to a professional performance (and the one I saw was highly professional) costs € 12.00 at the normal rate, € 8.00 for university employees and € 4.00 for students and the unemployed. For amateur productions the rate is € 4.00 for everybody (prices as of 2018).
At the entrance to the university campus there is large map showing all the buildings, and the theater is # 16 on the map. It’s at the front end of the campus, between the library and the student union building.
The Paul Verlaine University was founded in 1970 and now has 16,000 students. The main campus is on an island in the Moselle River. Most of the buildings are new, but at the front end of the campus there are also a few older buildings from the 19th century that were originally built for other purposes but have recently been modernized for use by the university.
They claim that this is one of the most pleasant university campuses in France. Well, maybe it is (most European universities don’t even have campuses in the North American sense of the word), but the newer buildings are not exactly architectural masterpieces, and the really irritating thing is that there is an elevated motorway, the Autoroute A31, which cuts right across the island and hence the campus.
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) was one of the leading French poets of the nineteenth century. They named the university after him because he was born in Metz and lived the first seven years of his life here, before his family moved back to Paris. Actually the only reason he was born here was that his father was a French army officer who happened to be stationed in Metz at the time. (Victor Hugo was born in Besançon for the same reason.)
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Diderot University in Paris.