Une Passion

December 13, 2009By Pierre TranArchive
une passion, theatre marigny, paris

Nin and Miller hop from bed to typewriter to express their passion.

The lonely sound of a typewriter tapping and a Billie Holiday soundtrack provide the aural clues to the themes underpinning Une Passion, Delphine de Malherbe’s adept

une passion, theatre marigny, paris

Nin and Miller hop from bed to typewriter to express their passion.

The lonely sound of a typewriter tapping and a Billie Holiday soundtrack provide the aural clues to the themes underpinning Une Passion, Delphine de Malherbe’s adept adaptation and staging of The Diary of Anaïs Nin. Can a man and woman be just good friends when the meeting of their restless and creative minds is so intense that they are irresistibly attracted to each other? They share an irrepressible urge to write, to understand what makes people tick, to escape the monotony of life.

A visual clue is provided by the large bed with rumpled white sheets in the foreground. The small stage heightens the intimacy of the relationship of this interwined couple, which is acted out in mature, powerful performances by Evelyne Bouix, playing Nin, and Laurent Gréville, as Miller.

The woman is Anaïs Nin. The man is Henry Miller. The two have met at a dinner in the suburbs of Paris attended by boring bankers discussing The Crisis (the 1929 version). They are married – not to each other – and each sees something in the other that cannot be denied.

Visible in the background, ever-present and no less important, is the typewriter, the immortalizing device that will make Miller’s name in 20th-century literature. Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring (published by Obelisk Press in Paris) will become bibles of the 1960s counterculture, while Nin’s journal will be read by a generation of women exploring their own sexuality and seeking liberation from male oppression.

Nin, the wife of a bourgeois banker, has been writing her diary since the age of 11. She believes that an understanding of the unconscious and subconscious will free the individual. If people had had a grasp of psychology, she will write, they would have seen Hitler for the psychotic murderer he really was.

The play, which engages from start to finish, picks up the story in the winter of 1931, just after Nin has written a monograph on the iconoclastic D.H. Lawrence. The couple’s interplay is tactile, physical and sensual, drawing on black lingerie and a satiny white nightdress, but the story is not just about sex; it narrates their passion for each other. They are wrapped up in each other, yet sometimes push the other away – Miller says he needs to write, Nin clings to him. In one touching scene among many, they act like an old couple as she points out how frayed his clothes are. He replies that his writing is all that matters. They want to know the unknowable, grasp the heart and soul of another being. Writing is the only escape.

And then one day, Nin makes an announcement that that changes everything.

What she says raises many questions: Is life a form of personal therapy? Is Miller the father figure Nin craved because of a troubled relationship with her own father, who abandoned her as a child? Can one writer trust another writer not to use their relationship as material?

In the background, Billie Holiday sings “Body and Soul,” the lyrics of which foretell a doomed love: “My heart is sad and lonely/For you I cry/For you, dear, only/I tell you I mean it/I’m all for you/Body and soul”*

Passion is the P word, the mysterious, essential quality that lifts life out of the banal, the mundane. It is an intensity of experience that allows a life to be lived fully and deeply, felt to the core. A life lived, not submitted to. Sometimes Passion, it seems, is not enough. But the writing lives on.

Pierre Tran

Théâtre Marigny: Carré Marigny, 75008 Paris. Métro: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Tel.: 01 53 96 70 30. Tuesday-Sunday. Through May 30. Tickets: €20-€35. www.theatremarigny.fr

* Lyrics by Johnny W. Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton

Reader Grace Teshima writes: “Beautifully written and just the push I needed to go see the play. Both writers were enormous influences on me — and I had the privilege of meeting Anaïs Nin in 1971. Reading her diaries — and of that period in their lives (she was 28 then) — was one of the pulls to come to Paris!”

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