Misérables

November 5, 2009By Pierre TranArchive
misérables, lucernaire, paris

Emmanuel Barrouyer in one of his many roles in Misérables.

It may be a testament to Victor Hugo’s greatness that Les Misérables is one of those books that looms large in the public consciousness even though few

misérables, lucernaire, paris

Emmanuel Barrouyer in one of his many roles in Misérables.

It may be a testament to Victor Hugo’s greatness that Les Misérables is one of those books that looms large in the public consciousness even though few may have actually gotten around to reading it.

How else explain the planetary success of a stage musical with the catchy nickname “Les Miz”?

Now Philippe Person has produced Misérables, a theatrical homage to Hugo with humor, in which the Homeric novel is condensed to one hour and a quarter, and played out by a mighty cast of three.

Actor-producer Person, Anne Priol and Emmanuel Barrouyer work off a piece that the production company calls “freely adapted” by Philippe Honoré.

So for those of us – yes, I confess – who have not read the novel, Misérables the play comes in handy as a sort of CliffsNotes version of a literary classic that has been adapted for the cinema nearly 30 times.

Of course, this production is much more than a bluffer’s guide to the book. The imaginative staging draws on elements of quiz show sets, vaudeville and the look and feel of fringe theatre. I was reminded of a staging of the film Zulu by a cast of two at the Edinburgh Fringe many years ago.

If you like broad comedy, Misérables will grab you. If you want to see professional acting, with a bit of song and dance thrown in, Misérables will please. But do not expect a straight delivery or understatement. The audience, most of whom I imagine must have read and loved the book, applauded and laughed appreciatively at the send-ups of the sacred text.

The opening is deceptive, with Priol reciting a highly literary passage from the novel in a mysterious, crepuscular scene. Then the actress, who delivers the moving and dramatic monologue in a solemn voice, is swept aside by Barrouyer, who cites critical reviews debunking the Great Literary Novel, quoting luminaries such as Flaubert, Baudelaire and Proudhon. Person would make a fine chat show host if he were not producer, actor and co-director of Paris’s Lucernaire theater.

The rest of the play carries the audience jauntily along with stories of the hero, Jean Valjean, the ex-convict who steals silver from an infinitely compassionate cleric, and the characters who cross his path, including the starveling Fantine, who turns to prostitution to support herself and her child; her daughter Cossette; Cossette’s swain Marius; and Javert, the heartless police officer tracking Valjean.

Amid the jinking and jiving of a hyperactive theatrical imagination, Misérables tells the story of love and redemption in a time of woe. Hugo beat Hollywood to the intimate epic.

Pierre Tran

Lucernaire: 53 rue Notre-Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris. Métro: Notre-Dame des Champs. Tel.: 01 42 22 26 50. Tuesday-Saturday, 8pm. www.lucernaire.fr

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