In “Le Penseur,” a one-man show focusing on the character and work of sculptor Auguste Rodin, we can see a clear parallel between Rodin’s passion for creating art and author, director and actor Jean-Baptiste Seckler’s passion for this play, now showing in the intimate, 50-seat Théâtre du Gouvernail.
Onstage is Rodin’s cluttered studio, populated with clay models of “The Thinker,” a bust of Camille Claudel, a large head of Victor Hugo, drawings, easels and sketches hanging crookedly on the walls. Out of all this clutter come the artist’s lucid thoughts and his iconoclastic work.
Seckler, a sculptor himself and part of the team at the Musée Grèvin, created this homage to Rodin on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s death. He himself sculpted the busts of Claudel and Hugo seen onstage.
“The Thinker” works well as a title for the play and reflects its structure: when Rodin is not sculpting or drawing onstage, the audience is privy to the profound nature of his own thinking. In a series of vignettes, he reveals his secrets and talks about his most intimate ideas, doubts and hopes, and the ups and downs of his life.
Philosophical at times, he muses on nature, beauty, love and work while ruminating about his adolescence, for example, or listening to the offstage voice of Claudel, his lover, reading a letter to him. At one point, the image of a nude female model is projected in his studio, and we watch him make an impressive sketch of the model in real time.
The poetic playwriting effectively reveals the character of the artist in this atmospheric play driven by mood and character. In a scene in which he discusses Victor Hugo as a subject, he says, “I suffered for my sculpture. If I had not been so stubborn, I would not have accomplished what I have.” At one point, he notes that “artists always have a feminine side,” and, while drawing a live female model, he says that “in order to understand her tenderly sculpted curves, you must have the luck to be in love.”