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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”

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If Looks Could Kill

December 19, 2013 | by

Melville House captions this “vintage bookmobile drama,” and we challenge you to imagine exactly what was going through the brunette’s head. Or, more to the point, why.

vintagebookmobiledrama

 

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Arthur Miller Reads Death of a Salesman, February 1955

May 23, 2012 | by

From the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center’s archives.

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The End of The Date

July 19, 2010 | by

An epilogue.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

10:35 P.M. I spot Amelia and Anne in the crowd walking back to the ferry. Amelia thinks that Stepan Trofimovich must really have been supposed to look like Marx: when he was dying in Varvara Petrovna’s arms, that was nascent Marxism being stifled in the embrace of the serf-based order. Heat lightning flashes above the bay. J. points out the roof of the Merrill Lynch building where he once interned for a twenty-three-year-old investment banker and realized that the corporate world was not for him. We are joined by The New York Post writer, who knows J. from journalism school. She has already submitted her six-inch article via cell phone.

10:45 P.M. Inside the ferry, it’s incredibly hot and stuffy. As in some strange dream, the actors are there too, sitting on benches along the walls. Some of them no longer resemble their characters, while others appear virtually unchanged. Stepan Trofimovich still has a wild black beard and wild white hair. Maybe he was born that way. His presence, I realize, makes me vaguely uneasy—as if part of me fears that he might start coughing and dying again.

10:55 P.M. In the past ten minutes, the ferry hasn’t gotten any less hot, stuffy, or stationary. “Maybe they have to dismantle the set before the boat can start,” J. suggests, producing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

11:00 P.M. “You know what I’m really craving now, is breakfast cereal,” J. remarks.

“Oh, really?” I reply. “I’m craving an enormous glass of Scotch.”

“Well, sure, that would be OK too. But just picture a big bowl of raisin bran, with cold milk. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?”

I give the matter some thought. “It sounds totally irrelevant to my life and problems,” I confess.

11:05 P.M. J. introduces me to the Post reporter. “I saw you in the audience,” she tells me. “You were writing the whole entire time!” I explain that I was taking notes for a minute-by-minute account, designed for the insatiably curious readers of The Paris Review website. “Now I have to go home and write it up,” I say, in tones that came out sounding more despondent than I had intended.

“Next time you shouldn’t take so many notes,” she says. “The more notes you take, the more notes you have to read later. You’re just creating more work for yourself.”

I give this advice some thought. “Thanks for the tip,” I say. Read More »

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My 12-Hour Blind Date: The Play Begins

July 14, 2010 | by

Part two of a four-part review.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

11:05 A.M. The play starts. I’m briefly excited. It’s strange to see Dostoevsky’s weird, garrulous narrator—weird, in the book, because he knows all this stuff he couldn’t possibly know, and narrates in first-person plural (“we”) from the perspective of the townspeople—represented by a slight bearded Italian, who appears playing the piano. He explains that the little piece he is playing is called “Franco-Prussian War,” and that he and his friends use it to cover up the sound of their discussion about freethinking. He’s a good actor and not bad at playing the piano.

11:20 A.M. The exposition is taking forever. The poor narrator. He has to introduce so many characters! First he sets up the friendship between Stepan Trofimovich and Varvara Petrovna (the older characters). Then he has to introduce the circle of freethinkers. There are like eight of them. Then there is the young generation: Stepan Trofimovich’s son, Pyotr, and Varvara Petrovna’s son, Nikolai, and Varvara Petrovna’s ward, Dasha, who is the sister of one of the freethinkers, and then Varvara Petrovna’s friend’s daughter, Liza. Liza and Nikolai and Dasha have been having a love triangle in Switzerland.

11:30 A.M. It’s interesting how important Switzerland is in the novel. You never actually see anything that happens there, but the characters talk about it. That works well in a play.

11:32 A.M. The eight freethinkers are having a reunion at Stepan Trofimovich’s house. They keep greeting each other by name, but it’s impossible to tell them apart, especially since there is a time lag with the supertitles.

11:37 A.M. When will these freethinkers stop reveling? And is the one with glasses Virginsky or Liputin? The narrator is playing an accordion.

11:45 A.M. The one with glasses is Shigalyov. Nikolai comes in. He’s just back from Switzerland. He’s supposed to be this charismatic demonic diabolically handsome character with an empty soul, who ruins everyone’s lives out of his spiritual emptiness. The actor is doing a good job of appearing empty, but that’s it. He looks like a skinny Brad Pitt, complete with the strange beard. I do not find him charismatic.

12:10 A.M. Varvara Petrovna is calling Dasha an idiot. “Crrretina! Crrretina!” she shouts. The seven-year-old girl in the audience is clinging to her mother’s neck and whispering something in her ear, very intently. The LA Times critic sighs and shifts his weight. I wince and try to scoot back in my chair, but collide with the knees of the person behind me (a man wearing shorts), probably causing him acute pain. I feel one with the awesome cycle of life.

12:20 P.M. “Captain Lebyadkin whips his pretty, lame, retarded younger sister,” someone remarks. Now that was an efficient sentence.

12:30 P.M. Stepan Trofimovich doesn’t want to marry Dasha, but the wedding is scheduled for Sunday. “Couldn’t there be a week with no Sunday? Couldn’t God cancel Sunday, just once, to prove to an atheist that he exists?”

I think that was the first funny line. People have been laughing at every other line though. Whenever anyone mentions anything related to theater (like when Varvara Petrovna calls Stepan Trofimovich a “bad actor”), they chuckle knowingly. I find this annoying, even though I know it’s really just a form of politeness. Read More »

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