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Open: 05/13/14- Close: 05/17/14 Music Hall
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

Life imitated art at the first performance of Music Hall by the Diffractions Theatre Collective on May 14.  Not only was the barebones simplicity of the Roy Arias Studio Theatre II a fitting backdrop for a play set in seedy cabarets, the waiting area came replete with two drunk men baiting the audience—an unintentional similarity to the two drunk men in the play who berate the  tired heroine.  (The real-life hecklers were waiting for a comedy show in the adjoining theatre). 

Diffractions specializes in cultural exchanges between French-speaking countries and the U.S., Accordingly, the production was performed in the original French (with English surtitles).  Jean-Luc Lagarce’s elegant, surreal script told the story of a worn-out cabaret singer (La Fille) and her two male dancers (Boy 1 and Boy 2) as they traverse the seediest cabarets and music halls in France, searching in vain for fame and validation.  Narrated by the characters themselves in past tense, and alternating between third and first person, the play looped in and out of time and place, jumping from memory to memory…until the despair of La Fille and the Boys’ emotional journeys became clear…until their act (and their lives) fell apart.

While the surreal structure was one of the play’s strengths, its discursiveness could also be frustrating—especially the flagging momentum of the repetitive final moments. Perhaps this was intentional on the part of the playwright, or the part of director Roxane Revon—a deliberate echo of La Fille’s dispirited emotional and physical journey—or perhaps it was a case of first performance uncertainty.  Still, Revon elicited fine performances from the cast—Jackie Sanders shone as the embittered but enduring La Fille, while Jacopo Rampini (as Boy 1) and Francois Baron (Boy 2) skillfully switched between multiple roles, portraying all the men in La Fille’s life, from back-up dancers to hecklers.  Director Revon and choreographer Michelle Bruckner made inventive use of the cramped black box performance space—evoking the world of French cabarets with flourishes of movement, sound, shadow and light.  While it was effective to have some action take place in shadow behind screens, it was odd that the screens were so short (sometimes cutting off the actors’ heads).

In all, though, Music Hall was an intriguing performance—a rare chance to see work by a French playwright rarely seen in New York.

Roy Arias Studios: Stage II : 300 West 43rd Street, 4th Floor