Récits de Femmes

February 7, 2010By Pierre TranArchive
recits de femme, dario fo & Franca Rame, theatre funambule-montmartre, paris

Sylvain Savard as Massimo, husband of the long-suffering Antonia, played by Lou Tordjman. Photo © Compagnie Idéale

As soon as I heard the tunefully sung opening to Récits de Femmes, I was hooked. I confess I went to the Théâtre Funambule in Montrmartre on a chilly autumnal night

recits de femme, dario fo & Franca Rame, theatre  funambule-montmartre, paris

Sylvain Savard as Massimo, husband of the long-suffering Antonia, played by Lou Tordjman. Photo © Compagnie Idéale


As soon as I heard the tunefully sung opening to Récits de Femmes, I was hooked. I confess I went to the Théâtre Funambule in Montrmartre on a chilly autumnal night in a mood many millons of miles removed from a theatrical outing, but the trio of musical voices won me over quicker than you could say “radical agitprop.”

Récits de Femmes occupies the terrain of sexual and gender politics worked by the veteran Italian playwright Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame. Unintended pregnancy, abortion, personal fulfillment and infidelity are among the themes aired in these women’s narratives.

As this is Fo, life’s bitterness is presented as comedy. Laughs and smiles are written into the performances, which narrate the dangers of lovemaking between comrades without the Pill, the loneliness of the long-distance housewife locked in at home by a controlling husband, the suicide attempts of a wife put upon by a serially unfaithful husband.

The tales of the oppressed Italian feminine condition are skillfully told by Cécile Leterme, playing the characters Gina and Marie in the first two stories, and Lou Tordjman as Antonia in the third. Sylvain Savard convincingly plays the male oppressor Massimo, as husband to the long-suffering, suicidal Antonia in the final narrative.

Producer Dimitri Dubreucq demonstrates the skillful stagecraft and sense of theatricality that are the hallmarks of Fo’s commedia dell’arte style, including the use of Brechtian alienation when Antonia addresses the audience directly to give her side of the story.

I have to admit, however, that I did measure the distance between myself and the door and longed to make my own exit when the production relied too heavily on the SHOUTY school of acting.

Music, on the other hand, is used sweetly to move the stories along.

One of the great lines in the play comes when Gina says: “I like to make love with sentiment,” then has to explain to her man, “No, sentiment is not the same as sentimentality.”

I wonder if Fo was deliberately reworking F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line: “I’m a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.”

The choice of play is intriguing, given that the Women’s Lib themes seem quaintly dated, but at least they are authentically situated in time by the telephone with a real circular dial, the stage furniture and the hippie-ish designer dress that Antonia puts on for going out with her “atomic lover” (a nuclear scientist).

But perhaps the subject of women’s issues isn’t as outdated as it seems. In the United States, abortion clinics have been firebombed. In France, the government’s pension reform has stirred grave concern as the measures discriminate against lower-paid women workers. In Iran, stoning women to death is acceptable. In Afghanistan, schoolgirls are attacked with acid.

In the U.K., Fo, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, enjoyed stage hits with Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. The latter was hailed as an effective piece of anti-Thatcher drama when it came to London, even though it had been written five years before the Iron Lady took power in 1979.

Comedy is a powerful tool; derision is subversive. We need Fo now as much as ever.

Pierre Tran

Théâtre Funambule de Montmartre: 53 rue des Saules, 75018 Paris. Métro : Lamarck-Caulaincourt. Tel.: 01 42 23 88 83. Through November 28. Tickets: €22. www.funambule-montmartre.com

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