I went to see Les Ephemeres by Ariane Mnouchkine and Theatre du Soleil at the Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival tonight. The only other time I saw this company was at their home, the Cartoucherie, outside Paris, in June 2000. So much has happened since then. That show, Tambours sur la Digue, really changed my life-- and I'm not exaggerating.
As my friend Rob was saying yesterday, you can't judge what other people decide is their 'big stuff.' What they get worked up about, what pain they struggle with. It is all relative. And for me-- Theatre du Soleil and that show in particular was a PRETTY BIG DEAL.
The show tonight was a series of short vignettes, MANY vignettes-- that added up to an epic almost 3 1/2 hours. And that was only Part 1. The company has endeavored to bring a bit of the circus-barn feel to the Upper East Side and the audience was seated on bench seating with small cushions and not-deep backs on pretty steep risers. The audience faced each other and the action was played in a playing space with pewter silk fabric billowing at either end whenever a platform was wheeled on. The space was very long and the depth was further exploited when scenes would continue on in a sense, even as they were disappearing into the distance. A young adulterous mother sitting at a table with a single candle burning on Christmas Eve. A transexual woman and and a little girl watching an old movie right after blowing out the lights on the birthday cake. That sort of thing.
The NY Times did a bang-up job of describing the show and I won't make any attempt to do better. What I will say is what it left me with.
Mnouchkine is so genius at marrying an seemingly impossibly abstract idea/theme/issue to a visual/objective manifestation-- and the way this show was played was genius. This show is about the ephemerality of everything, of youth, of love, of family, of life... and so it of course is about memory. Each of the scenes were played on platforms on wheels-- most of them round, and one to three company members moved like serpentine gondoliers surreptitious manipulating them through the space. The 'plates' were always 'spinning.' Like a memory that swirls through your mind, as one element or person shifts into the foreground and then another, as your point of view invariably changes over time... and then inevitably, it all recedes. Spinning away into darkness.
Also, Mnouchkine is a genius at choosing both the extraordinary and the mundane. The extraordinary in the ordinary.
My boyfriend Alex and I had moments of impatience-- he thinks anything really profound can be said in 90 minutes... or 80 even... but that doesn't account for the transfixing meditation factor. And there was definitely a value-add as the piece played on. Storylines wove through each other and I felt like I was reading the Westing game all over again as I tried to put the puzzle pieces together.
In the final moment as the company took apart the circle where the last scene had taken place, and the theatrical lights turned to flashlights which gave way to tiny lights illuminating only the mass of people across the playing space, in near-darkness, in silhouette, I thought of our own ephemerality. How one day, not too long from now-- all the people in this theater will be gone, the moments of their lives spinning away into the darkness.
And the music swelled. And a few tears welled up. And I didn't want any of it to end.