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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Notes on Ionesco Suite From Its Actors and Creators

Théâtre de la Ville, Paris presents Ionesco Suite, a collective work based on texts by Eugène Ionesco staged as an unruly dinner party, at the BAM Fisher from Jan 23—26, directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. The actors and creators provided texts of their own about the Ionesco Suite adventure, which have been translated here.

Gérald Maillet (performer)

Dear Eugène,

I’ve taken the liberty of calling you by your first name, given how long we’ve known each other.

I’m taking advantage of this new adventure in your delightfully fierce world to write you this little note. If only the two of us could have talked face to face while drinking a fine whiskey, what an honor that would have been!

I would probably have deluged you with questions.
How do three or even seven people tackle your “Frenzy for Two”?

How do we penetrate your “momonstrously” deep body of work?

How do we approach your not-so-absurd mind?

I’ve been speaking your words for so many years. Sentences echo in my mind. I hear Ionesco in cafés, on the street, in the train, everywhere “people pass by, pass by,” and speak Ionesco without even realizing. Now that’s truly Ionesco-esque! We even invented a word. “I hope you don’t mind?”

I’m also inhabited by your spiritual quest with “sensing the end” and “being chronometered.” And the obsession with meaning that you pursued through words is at the heart of my work as an actor. Meaning!

So, when “the snail, meaning the turtle, moves about with its house on its back, which it has built itself, one s-nail at a time,” when “the fire catches fire,” and “I’d rather kill a rabbit than sing in the garden,” I tell myself that your world may not be so far from mine. Or should I say that I’ve been contaminated by yours?

It is a joy to read you and speak you, to look for the authentic moment in the relationship with my partners through the prism of your linguistic inventions.

I promise you that, “I will be deeply myself, in my fear, in my desires, in my anxiety, in my joy of being […] of being all these others in what makes them human.”

I hope that tonight’s audience will not go home untouched.

“Life is a battle, it’s cowardly not to fight.”

I wish you long life in death.

Cordially yours,

Gérald Maillet

Jauris Casanova (performer)

13 years already, 13 years that we’ve been performing Ionesco Suite.

Work experienced as a game.

That’s the singular thing about theater: you can always start over, while in life it’s impossible, you can’t go back.

So we wipe the slate clean and start over.

The essential remains to be discovered.

To my buddy Olive.

Sandra Faure (performer)

I took over the part of Roberte in 2006. I remember the tiny room over the bar at the theater in Reims, where we were practically performing on top of the audience! I remember a big mess. I remember I laughed a lot. And that I saw human things in my fellow actors that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. It might have been on this production that the spirit of the company was born in me. I remember tremendous youth. The energy of the bodies. Our insolence and our clumsiness.

To perform this production is to span time. We’ve aged. We’ve had kids. We’ve won some battles and lost others.

Of course, the script resonates more strongly today, fed by the events of our lives. That’s the power of Ionesco’s writing. Like a whirlwind.

We’ve all lived through an experience of death, however close.

I went through the looking glass.

All that makes me think of my favorite line in the show:

“In life, one must look out the window.”

Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota (director)

Ionesco Suite brings together part of the company of actors that have been with me for many years—more than 10, in most cases. Many of them were already with me for the production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, nearly all of them were in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Horváth’s Kasimir and Karoline, Camus’ State of Siege, and one of the eight Fabrice Melquiot plays we’ve premiered over these many years, from Marcia Hesse to Alice and the recent Les Séparables. All of them have accompanied these productions on long tours in France and around the world. They have each followed their personal path: the Conservatoire, the circus school in Châlons or the acting school on rue Blanche, training in theater or in some cases in dance. Part of the ensemble’s strength is in the diversity of backgrounds and generations that compose it. 

In the wake of the revival of Rhinoceros, which after more than 200 performances is continuing its incredible journey and was performed in Créteil in November 2018, we plunged back into the body of Ionesco’s work, including writings for the stage but also biographical and theoretical texts, in order to extend our creative “lab” focused on a few of the writer’s notable obsessions: the levelling of individuality, the arbitrary nature of language and the fundamental impossibility of communicating, the expression of power and domination (emotional and intellectual), the difficulty of being, dreams, and death.

In fact, what is striking in our rehearsals now is Ionesco’s art of taking sentences from everyday life and using these shapeless stones to create a fascinating and original mosaic. All the more reason for the actor to make heard in each of our banalities what is useless and insipid, insignificant or odious, or on the contrary what is terribly human about it.

This theatrical form, and the different spaces in which it can be performed, also allows us to offer the audience a different relationship to the performance, and the actors a different relationship to the audience, through a narrative that continues to be invented before and with the audience and works on the border separating those performing from those watching.

Eugène Ionesco (playwright)

I write in the night, with anguish and, from time to time, the illumination of humor.

Charles-Roger Bour (performer)

When we created Ionesco Suite 13 years ago in the wake of Rhinoceros, I wasn’t yet as old as the “octogenic” grandmother, to use Ionesco’s term. Today I have to get used to the idea that I’m going to wind up catching up with her in… nine years, but always with a great deal of tenderness. For the role of the professor, which I’ve also been playing since the beginning, I’ve had to reconsider the dominant/dominated relationship with my new partner Walter N’Guyen, who has a very different energy than Olivier Le Borgne’s.

Stéphane Krähenbühl (performer)

I was 34 in 2005 when we first staged Ionesco Suite
. I played the same characters I play today. They have lived with me, or I have lived with them, for 13 years now. We’re aging together. In this (re)construction of scenes, some characters maintain their own identity, like the awful father in Jack, or the Submission, while others appear more ghostlike or anonymous. To paraphrase Ionesco in The Hermit, “passersby passing by.” And yet all of them have this fanciful and desperate reality, this deep humanity.

I became particularly aware of this in 2014, when I had to take over the part of young Jack, instead of Father Jack, in Jack, or the Submission. A fascinating experience. I had been the monstrous and overwhelmed father who oppresses his unspeaking son and suddenly I became this rebellious and silent son who dreams of another life. That was a key for me. I had the feeling that I better grasped Ionesco’s poetry, his world, his obsessions, and his anxieties. Today I’m 47 years old and am inhabited by a single thought when I’m on stage: to be there, with them, like in everyday life, present and alive without desperately looking for a meaning to it all. Absurd?

Sarah Karbasnikoff (performer)

To: Céline, Sandra, Séverine, Charles, Christophe, Emmanuel, Gérald, Jauris, Olivier, Romain, Walter, Yves

When I saw
Ionesco Suite, in a hall dressed for you in the middle of the Lycée Claude Monet, it was a shock, an astonishment, such a moment of joy and jubilation!

You were all so poignant, moving, united, funny and disturbing, clever and generous.

The words, the rhythm, the absurdity and elevation of Ionesco had become yours. WHAT A DELIGHT… de Théâtre et de Ville, of Theater and of the City… To discover you like this… Since then, every time I come to see you perform this show, it’s the same thing…

So, there you have it.

Now you’re welcoming me among you and I’m so happy to participate in this great Celebration, to taste a little bit of your madness.

Thank you.

Walter N’Guyen (performer)

Originally, I collaborated with Jefferson Lembeye as a composer/musician on the initial staging of this project. We were around for each step of the creative exploration, all the changes, the new versions, the tours, the swapping of parts, and some actors’ departures.

I remember the two of us accompanying the show live with guitar and cello, and doing the recording sessions. Running sound with CD players… The first performances in the studio at the Comédie de Reims and in Givet… Hysterical laughter in rehearsal… Building the set in high schools, Marie-France Ionesco at the Lycée Molière… then Porto, Athens, Rio, Chicago…

We’ve always tried to adapt and question the music as if it were another player on the stage, to feel and accompany the show live, at our fingertips, echoing the lines, the performances, the silences… the sounds and notes as replies to the actors.

Today, I’m returning as an actor, crossing to “the other side” in honor of Olivier.

I’m going to have to look for my truth on the edge of the void, to find the right place for me, here, with my friends. I’m going to play the part of Jacqueline.

Photos: Jean Luis Fernandez

© 2019, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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