GENS DE SEOUL
Friday, July 21, 6pm
The production of GENS DE SEOUL, a Japanese play by contemporary author Oriza Hirata, was highly anticipated in Avignon because it was staged by Frédéric Fisbach, who will be the Festival's Featured Artist next summer. But a steady stream of audience members left during the play, the applauding at the end of the show was less than enthusiastic, and by the director did not join the actors to take a bow though it was the premiere...
There is nothing wrong with Hirata's work, if you like Chekhovian atmospheres and plots - much as in Chekhov's plays, it's all about suppressed words, hidden wounds, and complex family relationships. Not much happens, really, and there are neither climax nor denouement, which is fine by me at least. The characters are chatty yet they say very little of what really matters to their lives or to the political situation that's hinted at, namely Japan's occupation of Korea in the early 20th century. I found it fascinating, as it reminded me of Tanizaki's sublime "Makioka sisters", another work that focuses both on tried family ties and a tense political situation that everyone wants to ignore.
There's a lot wrong, on the other hand, with Fisbach's staging of the play. It's as if he had tried very hard to show how smart and intelligent he is. The play is performed in Japanese, and it's difficult enough to focus both on what's going on onstage and on the tiny subtitles, but to make things more frustrating, Fisbach added screens on both sides of the stage, with words and images flashing on them, while characters come and go, in seemingly random bursts of activity. It's highly confusing. Fisbach's heavy hand also litters the play with symbols - the stage is split in two, characters are brought to the stage on little carts by a masked man... The whole thing is so laden with meaning that it strips Hirata's play of its subtlety. Obviously, Fisbach has not yet digested his Beckett, his "nouveau roman", his structuralism, the 1970's theorists. Fear the worst for the 2007 edition of the festival.