Untamed, on stage

By Yao Minji (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-09 09:37

If "Marguerite Duras" conjures visions of a young French girl in prewar Indochina, the girl in "L'Amant," go see "Duras in China" for the author straight up. Yao Minji calls her an ardent feminist whose themes were writing, desire, love, memory and death. In French and Chinese. No English.

Most Chinese readers and audiences know of Marguerite Duras, one of France's most famous writers, from the film "L'Amant" ("The Lover"), an acclaimed American production based on Duras' novel of the same name. But you can glimpse a fierce, untamed Duras tomorrow night on stage.

"If 'L'Amant' is how you know about Duras, then you don't know about her at all," says Denis Bolusset-Li (he adopted the Chinese surname Li after coming to Shanghai), director of the drama "Duras in China." The performance in alternating Chinese and French (no English subtitles) of two of Duras' works opens tomorrow night and runs through May 20.

"L'Amant" is autobiographical, the coming-of-age story of a young woman in French Indochina in the 1930s who falls in love with an older wealthy man. In life, Duras later moved to France. She died in 1996, considered a literary talent.

"Duras in China," speaks with the powerful, complicated voices of a strong woman and fierce writer who has lived a full (at times too full), brave and passionate life. Her themes were writing, love, sexual desire, memory and death.

The play "Duras in China" presents excerpts of two non-theatrical texts, "Writing" (1993, her final work) and "The Atlantic Man" (1982).

This will be the first time any of Duras' writings have been staged in Chinese, Bolusset-Li says.

Four actresses, two Chinese, two French, will perform: two for each work. None speaks the other's language. Both are written in the feminine first person.

Like Nathalie Sarraute whom she admired, Duras was heavily involved in theatrical works, to which she brought a feminist voice, as well as an unexpected, violent, radical, and sometimes sexually ambiguous one with a strong personality.

Director Bolusset-Li says he presents Duras's voice through "Writing" and "The Atlantic Man" because they fit his experimental form. "Duras in China" presents first one work, then the other, in a simple, intimate, spontaneous performance, meant to emphasize Duras' vivid personal voice as much as possible.

The actresses will not simply take turns reading lines. "They have to finish the lines in 105 minutes, besides that, everything about this production requires spontaneity," Bolusset-Li says. He presents a map of the stage, which is also the seating area, so the "distance between audience and performers is minimized."

"The actresses will enter the 'performing state' once the first member of the audience walks into the room and it is extremely important for them (the actresses) to be sensitive to everything in the room," says the director.

The whole room is the stage, with 168 stools distributed in the shape of the Chinese character nu, which means "female." The four actresses, all present from the beginning of the production, will move among the six sections divided by the seats.



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