June 6 – July 20, 2003
by Simone de Beauvoir
Adapted for the stage and Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Cynthia Mance, Szilvi Naray-Davey, Jennifer Piehl, Liz Pocock, Cheryl Scaccio
BACKSTAGE WEST — CRITIC’S PICK!
July 02, 2003
Reviewed By Paul Birchall Director
Frederique Michel’s elegantly presented adaptation of Simone de Beauvoir’s novella meshes poetry, surreal onstage imagery, and dream-like movement to create a complicated but nuanced portrait of a borderline delusional soul. Inhabiting the complex and occasionally oblique play’s core is Murielle, a petulant and embittered woman who has isolated herself through her own irresponsibility and selfishness. Fortunately for her, though, Murielle happens to be played by four women, who, dressed like the backup singers from the old 1980s “Addicted to Love” music video, writhe about the stage, voicing her thoughts and feelings. One good thing about talking to yourself: At least you’re talking to someone who listens. Michel’s dynamic and visually enthralling staging opens with the arresting sight of the body of the woman’s dead daughter lying naked onstage, while around her the various fragments of Murielle’s mind shriek like harpies, slapping the ground with their shoes. This image sets a compelling mood of near-inchoate anger that simmers throughout the entire show. Before long, the reasons for Murielle’s wrath become evident: She has been dumped by her husband, who has taken their son away. To make matters worse, her daughter has recently committed suicide–the result of Murielle’s interference with her love for another woman. Yet even as Murielle wheedlingly justifies herself, we start to recognize the truth of her own self-deception. And, as we look between the lines of what the character says, we’re given the impression of what it’s like to be Medea–from the inside out. Splitting Murielle into four different figures (played by Cynthia Mance, Szlivi Naray-Davey, Elizabeth Pocock, and Cheryl Scaccio) is a fascinating conceit that cleverly and engrossingly suggests the fragmented and disconnected anger that roils within the character. And while none of the four performers is realized as an individual, they work together as one emotional unit, providing a haunting and strangely touching portrait of the woman they’re portraying. In the end, Michel’s taut, eerie production crafts the sense of a woman who is glimpsed through increasingly tragic facets.
LA TIMES — RECOMMENDED!
A BOLD DANCE OF RAGE AND MEMORY
June 13, 2003
by F. Kathleen Foley
“At City Garage, de Beauvoir’s feminist polemic is alloyed with bracing humor. And more.”
“The Sweet Madness” (La Folie Douce) at City Garage has been adapted from “The Monologue,” the middle novella in Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist triptych, “The Woman Destroyed.” The piece is essentially a harrowing rant delivered by Murielle, a deeply narcissistic woman wracked with righteous anger over the dissolution of her latest marriage, and lingering guilt over the suicide of her young daughter.
Murielle’s monologue lends itself nicely to dramatization and has been done before as a one-woman play. No such obvious measures for innovative director-adapter FrederÌque Michel, the longtime artistic director of City Garage. Here, Murielle is played by four actresses — Cynthia Mance, Szilvi Naray-Davey, Elizabeth Pocock and Cheryl Scaccio.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and these Murielles, wearing identical black cocktail dresses, are all dressed up with nowhere to go. Alone, desperate, filled with rage, they recount past wrongs, real and imagined. Through it all, the lurking shade of Murielle’s dead daughter (Jennifer Piehl) looks on in sad and silent recrimination.
It’s an audacious and carefully syncopated staging. Framed against the backdrop of Charles A. Duncombe Jr.’s effectively stark set, the women move in precise unison — dancing in mincing steps, ticking their heads from side to side, hammering their high-heeled shoes in percussive rage. Acid memories overlap in staccato bursts. With few missteps, the actresses go through their rounds with the precision of clockwork Rockettes.
Granted, De Beauvoir’s work is partly a feminist polemic, but Michel brings a bracing humor to the fore, and Murielle — vain, self-deluded, unsympathetic yet pitiable — is so richly complex that she is seldom reduced to mere political exponent.