History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Early French 21st
Antoine Rault (1965-?) wrote "Le caïman" (The caiman, 2005) about an intellectual exploiting his wife and being exploited by her.
Time: 2000s. Place: Latin Quarter, Paris, France.
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Henry, a retired philosophy teacher, has left his wife, Juliet, for three days without warning. Worried, she calls up his sister, Teresa, to find out where he is. When Teresa comes over at their home, Henry has already returned. He makes no attempt at being pleasant before she leaves. Henry tells his wife he was at a philosophy conference in Lyons. He is tired and has the impression of no longer being able to contribute on intellectual matters after writing several books as a teacher at a prestigious institute. When she gives him his usual dose of a neuroleptic mitigating manic-depressive symptoms with occasional psychotic episodes, he knocks the teaspoon away and says he was lying. He was in Rome with a female student and does not love her any more. Juliet does not mind about the student but denies that he no longer loves her. She tries to mollify his aggressions but without success, then suddenly switches tactics by berating him for slacking off on his next book. She tells him what he should write. He cuts her off. "These are not my thoughts, these are your thoughts," he declares. Still worried about her husband, Juliet calls up his friend and psychiatrist, Dr Langlois, who comes over to their house. Henry accuses Dr Langlois of amusing his dinner friends with stories about his escapades. The doctor only wants to help, but knows his friend no longer follows his treatment. Henry retorts he does not need him. "You know how your illness evolves and you quickly detect your symptoms by yourself," the doctor admits. But when he starts to leave, Henry grabs him by the shoulder and begs him to remain. He starts to hallucinate, talking to people dead long ago. When his wife enters to find out what the commotion is about, she calls out his name. "There is no "Henry" anymore," he says while heading towards bed. Langlais tells Juliet that her husband should be hospitalized because he may be dangerous. He advises her to think about herself and not just him. As the doctor prepares to leave, the local curate, Father Chardin, comes in, Henry's old philosophy student called over by him. Father Chardin knows about the three-day episode to Rome. Henry had asked to see the pope and the curate had contacted a French cardinal to arrange a meeting. When Henry enters, he admits laughingly that he deliberately ignored his meeting with the pope. The curate worries over the consequences of this act on his own career. "I like to seduce and I also like to hurt," Henry declares. "My wife can confirm this. I spent my entire life making her suffer." She denies it. He retorts that he often fooled around with girls before her face, humiliated her by taking her for an idiot, and failed to defend her when the communist party long ago wanted to exclude her from their midst. Hurt, she quickly leaves. "I have no advice to give you," says the priest on his way out, "except stop fighting against yourself." When Juliet returns, Henry requests her to leave. "Get out before it is too late," he advises. When she refuses, he tells her he never believed anything he wrote about. "You wanted to convince yourself that we shared the same ideas," he says. "You imposed on me your way of thinking and doing." Bewildered, she admits being now frightened of him. "I detest the man I became to you and to others because of you. Don't come closer. You did not understand I wanted to destroy myself because since always I do not exist? I do not exist next to you because I am not I but what you wanted me to be, what everyone wanted me to be." Henry admits he wants to kill her but is unable to. Knowing that the game is up, she encourages him to do it. "You have the courage, my love," she assures him. Still under her spell, he strangles her to death.
Denise Chalem (1952- ?) wrote "Aller chercher demain" (Look for tomorrow, 2011) about a nurse willing to help anyone but preferring to be left alone. Chalem also wrote another hospital drama: "Paris 7th borough, my most beautiful vacations" (2010) in which Lilian becomes friendly with Eric, a homosexual orderly, while recovering from the removal of a cancerous breast. An old school-mate whom Lilian fails to remember, Michèle, shows up, also after removal of a cancerous breast. Lilian is eventually glad to be rid of her.
"Look for tomorrow"
Time: 2010s. Place: France.
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Nicole, head night-nurse at a palliative care unit of a hospital, lives with her invalid father, Charles, a Jew born in Poland whose wife died at 17. While serving him a fish dinner, Nicole remarks that her father keeps repeating the same fish joke every time she does so. "Because your fish stinks," Charles remarks. As she goes, Adrian, divorced with a 16-year old son and owner of a local grocery store, arrives. He wants Charles’ support to marry Nicole, but he prefers to keep her, having no one else except Dudu, a bird. In any event, when Adrian asks her directly, she declines. "To do what?" she asks rhetorically. "The same thing as I do with my father?" At work, Nicole’s co-worker, Patricia, mentions that a camping trip is all she can afford as a summer vacation. Unwilling to go anywhere, Nicole proposes to let her borrow some money. When Patricia sees the amount on the cheque, her hands tremble. When Adrian asks Charles what does he have to complain about concerning his daughter, "Honey rolls," he responds, which his wife used to prepare. "If you only knew how I miss them! And that piece of filth never wanted to learn." After attending a funeral for one of their patients, Nicole brings Patricia over to the house and introduces her to her father. He is angry that his daughter arrived only at noon when she usually does so 4 hours earlier. She hands over to Patricia a bouquet of flowers left by Adrian. After Patricia takes them and leaves quickly, Nicole turns towards her father angrily for having showed her up. "You realize I’m her boss?" she asks. "What authority will I have over now?" Since her father called him every half-hour after her usual time of arrival, a worried Adrian comes over, still harping on marriage plans. "I no longer desire to make an effort, to compromise," she responds. "I don’t want to be shoved around." At work, Patricia is surprised to learn that Nicole intends to buy an expensive dress for a classical concert she wishes to attend without Adrian. At 3 AM, Nicole receives a message from her father to come over. When she arrives, it is only because he cannot find his reading glasses when they are just lying" over his forehead. Even at 4 AM, Adrian arrives to chat with her father. Adrian is dispirited that his son left him. At work, Patricia feels overwhelmed concerning her feverish baby daughter whom her husband has difficulty taking care of and her suspicion that he is having an affair. She is thankful that Nicole proposes to handle the work-load all by herself while she heads for home. Nicole succeeds in convincing Adrian’s son to return home, for which Adrian is thankful and renews his wish to marry. "Go rest, forget me, let me rest," she replies. He is surprised to hear her say she gave away her dress after the concert. While chatting during the course of a meal with her father, she describes her patients, in particular a man dying of colon cancer. "When you’re sick, nothing interests you, except to reach the following day, look for tomorrow, as they say." She has a surprise desert for him: honey rolls. While chewing on one, he chokes, then has a heart attack, but has no wish to be taken to the hospital. He requests an injection to end it all and she obliges. Months later, she gives her dress to Patricia and announces that she left Adrian, pleased to live alone. The image of her father appears at work with his bird-cage and Adrian follows with news that he has already met another woman in an Internet exchange. While Patricia shows Adrian the ward, Nicole is left with her father. He announces he will return tomorrow, but she prefers not to see him any more. Instead, she embraces the bird-cage. "Come, my Dudu," she says, "let’s look for tomorrow."
Another play on old age, this one more in the Pinter tradition, is "Ramses II" (2017) by Sébastien Thiéry (1970- ?).
Time: 2010s. Place: France.
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Matt and Benedicte arrive from a vacation in Cairo and head towards her parents’ house where John and Elizabeth are set to welcome them. Arriving alone, Matt offers John a mask of the pharaoh, Ramses II, as a gift. John and Elizabeth notice that Matt appears distracted and has forgotten important information about their lives, including the selling of their boutique and John’s car accident which caused him to become bound to a wheelchair. Matt also has intestinal troubles. He tells John that his wife is upstairs but when Elizabeth investigates she is not there. « Where is she ? » John asks him again. "No idea," Matt answers. "You told me she was upstairs," John retorts. Matt denies it. Both parents become progressively more worried as Matt’s explanations about Benedicte’s whereabouts become weirder, vaguer, and more contradictory. He notably avers buying a car that very morning which she is supposedly driving without a driver’s permit. "She drives like her father without a permit," he states. John is insulted, but Elizabeth tones down her husband’s anger. Matt finally admits that their couple is under a certain degree of tension. "She told me I disgust her," he confesses. "She told me when we sleep together that she has the impression of making love to a monkey." The parents miserably try to downplay their daughter’s comment, but Matt weeps and heads for the toilet again while Elizabeth goes out to find out whether Benedicte is somewhere in their garden. She returns with a shovel taken from the trunk of Matt’s car. Matt denies that the shovel is his and that his wife is dead. While he heads for the toilet once more, John calls the police station but is told that there is a 2-day hiatus before an investigation begins. On his return, John becomes progressively angrier at his son-in-law’s responses. At last, Matt reveals that he now remembers wanting to show the shovel to his wife in the woods, then whispers in John’s ear that she is dead. While they wait for the arrival of the police and John holds Matt at gun-point, Benedicte suddenly enters. Though greatly relieved, John yet turns angrily towards Matt, but the latter denies having told him of her death, but rather believes that the old man suffers from a form of senile dementia. Six months later, without consulting her husband, Elizabeth invites back Matt and Benedicte to their house to reconcile the family. Affronted, John refuses to welcome Matt and sits on the electric stair-lift on his way upstairs to his room. Elizabeth removes the cable from the socket to plead with him, specifying that all this is the result of a misunderstanding. As John requests her to place back the cable, Matt enters alone, specifying that his wife will soon arrive. After Elizabeth leaves the room, Matt offers apologies for his conduct the last time he was here, the result of a joke. "I don’t know what happened to me," he confesses. "I lost control of the situation. And then, at a certain point, it was too late; I no longer knew how to get out of it." When John asks whether he admitted this to Benedicte, Matt answers that he cannot, for she would never forgive him. Instead, he wants John to admit that he was the one who misunderstood. When Elizabeth returns, she agrees with Matt. John resists, Matt becomes upset and leaves for the toilet. "The whole thing’s starting over again," John groans. Elizabeth denies it but, on his request, heads towards the garden as before to find her daughter and returns with a bloodied shovel. Once more, Matt denies that the shovel is his but then declares angrily that the matter is a state secret. John quickly leaves and returns with a rifle. An anxious Matt now reveals that he used the shovel to kill a cat in the woods. An equally anxious Elizabeth heads for the garden again. "Life is really horrible," Matt says weeping. "So horrible." He confesses he killed Benedicte with the shovel and chopped her head off. John does not believe him until he shows him a photograph. While John groans, Matt places the photo on the top shelf "as a souvenir," he says. While they wait for the arrival of the police and John holds Matt at gun-point, Benedicte rings the bell and enters. John accuses Matt as the last time, with the photo being added. But the photo is no longer there. "Probably, Matthew expressed himself badly," a bewildered Elizabeth avers. "Or maybe we misunderstood him?" "Dad, your family comes to help you; don’t reject it," Benedicte pleads. A few weeks later, after consulting a doctor, John pretends to take his anti-psychotic medication and takes instead a tape recorder for his next conversation with Matt. John hypocritically apologizes to Matt for his past suspicions and asks whether they have affected his relations with Benedicte. Matt replies that his relations with her have improved and hands over to him a book entitled "Ramses II, the builder". Pretending not to possess the book, John specifies that the pharaoh was the builder of tombs. "There’s something tomb-like about this house, don’t you think?" Matt asks ironically. John looks over his bookshelf to confirm that his son-in-law took out his own book. To his astonishment, Matt pulls down his fly, takes out his penis, and shakes it in front of him until Elizabeth enters the room. When she leaves, John insults Matt and sits on the stair-lift, but Matt unplugs it, removes the cable from a lamp, strips the wire, and places it dangerously on the stairs. John shouts in fear and promises to make peace with him. Matt next borrows his wheel-chair to present what appears to be Benedicte’s cadaver, then takes her out again before Elizabeth re-appears followed by Benedicte. "But you- you are you all accomplices?" John asks in confusion. In a desperate effort to reveal the truth, he requests his wife to play the tape of his conversation with Matt, but a false conversation is heard, after which Elizabeth decides to arrange her husband’s hospitalization while John dons the mask of Ramses II.
A third drama of note is "Arnaque, cocaïne et bricolage" (Scam, cocaine, and handiwork, 2006) by Mohamed Rouabhi (1965-?). He also wrote “Providence Café” (2003), where derelicts spend the day, including Chester, a vendor smelling of excrement in a chicken outfit, Patty, a waitress forced into a sex change when first kidnapped as a youth, Terry, a woodcutter threatened by Ned and Curtis and whom Patty strikes unconscious with her head for flirting with her, Larry, a talkshow host escaping from government officials who have forced him into his present job, and Bonzo, whose helmeted head is the result of a father slamming a door on it. Larry escapes to Mexico with Patty while leaving a credit card to Rosco, a farmer, to waylay the officials.
"Scam, cocaine, and handiwork"
Time: 2000s. Place: France.
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Richie beats up to unconsciousness a man who owes his friend, Joe, seven-months rent. Nevertheless, Joe is angry at Richie's failure to rifle the man's pockets because of his fear to touch dead bodies. However, the man is still alive. After finding nothing in the man's pockets, Joe orders Richie to get back to his car and get him tools for torture. Joe also asks him to remove his shoes before walking away. With one of the shoes, Joe smacks the man's face repeatedly. Richie returns only to say that the car is stolen. The two eventually reach a café to meet their friends: Sergio, Frankie, and Tony. After hearing some outlandish expression from Tony, Richie wonders where he gets such expressions. Richie points out that his interest in words stems from the time he wrote such poems in childhood as this: "Schoolbag/Schoolbag made of leather/Schoolbag made of leather from cows/Schoolbag made of leather from dead cows/Schoolbag made of leather from cows killed by men/Schoolbag made of leather from cows killed by men without faith/I pray for you/Because I know/Deep in me/Schoolbags made of leather/ Schoolbags made of leather/That we will all become/One day/Yes, schoolbags made of leather." Sergio is impressed, but goes on to the main purpose of their meeting: stealing 1.5 million euros hidden deep inside a castle wall which no one but he knows about. While in prison, Sergio had been told the location of the treasure by a cellmate who had participated in a robbery attempt in which his two partners were killed. After telling Sergio this, the cellmate was killed before recovering the money. All five agree to participate in the heist by piercing a hole inside the castle, but sophisticated equipment is necessary. After Tony consults an expert, they buy an expensive drill. A technician comes over to Richie's house to demonstrate how it should be used. After the demonstration, Richie is distraught on seeing his chimney destroyed. "People will see you are not in the norm, that you live in a world of your own," Sergio says to console him. With Richie acting as the lookout in Joe's car, the other four accomplices enter the castle at night, though Sergio is under the effects of cocaine. Suddenly, an alarm is heard from outside the castle. Sergio frantically calls up Richie. The alarm originates from the car and, after a harrowing delay, Richie at last succeeds in turning it off. However, a little later, the thieves hear the alarm again as Richie enters the castle, because without informing anyone Richie had invited his girlfriend over. Nevertheless, the five successfully pull off the heist. They ask the girlfriend to deposit the money at the bank for them. She succeeds without drawing undue suspicion. Happy at the conclusion, Richie guesses that Sergio was part of the original trio involved in the robbery attempt. Sergio confirms this hypothesis, specifying that his brother had died that night and so he could not summon enough energy to take the money.
Marc Dugowson (1966- ?) wrote «Habiller les vivants» (To clothe the living, 2008), and a sequel to this play entitled «Obstinate by night» (2010). Both have affinities with Buchner’s «Woyzeck» (1837) and Molnar’s «Liliom» (1909) with murder in the air at a carnival. In «Obstinate by night», Désirée, in a desperate condition, is about to kill her baby when Markus promises his support, eventually only by acting as her pimp and threatening her with death when she intends to slip away to recover her child placed with a friend whose name she cannot remember. Sputnik and Margaret take up Mickey, a mentally handicapped man, and become strolling circus performers until the latter crucifies Markus in an abandoned field.
"To clothe the living"
Time: 2000s. Place: France.
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While Jackie and Louise, husband and wife, prepare their fantasy act at a carnival, Ronnie asks to see their daughter, Désirée. Jackie refuses to have their daughter go with him."Désirée is the fiancée of her art" he specifies. Their adopted son, Sputnik, is released from jail after Judge Booba succeeds in finding him work at a slaughter-house, where Ronnie teaches him his duties. Once settled in, Sputnik is invited at his adopted parents’ house for dinner along with his wife, Margaret, who, out of work with nothing to do, was in the habit of writing to prisoners until they met while he was still serving his sentence. Despite Jackie’s disapproval, Ronnie and Désirée meet behind a carnival tent, where she announces her pregnancy. At their work-place, Ronnie informs Sputnik of a workers’ cut in salary. Their union refuses to accept management’s proposal and prepare for a workers’ strike. Sputnik declines to follow them on strike because he needs a constant supply of money. Instead, he retrieves loads of meat for himself and Margaret before his angry fellow-workers dump them in the river. After police officers charge into the building to repulse the workers, he is promoted to a master agent position and celebrates the event with his family. The party is interrupted by Ronnie, angry at having loss a friend in the violence of the conflict, but family members separate them before they fight. Sputnik’s triumph is mitigated when Margaret, claiming to be too old, refuses to become pregnant. In preparation of a new show, Louise encourages Désirée to assume an engaging posture, but, being pregnant, she cannot achieve it, so that her mother suggests that she escape from their bad environment without Ronnie. One day at their work-place, Sputnik catches Ronnie stealing liver and giblets and fires him for it and for being too far engaged in the strike. The angry workers continue throwing meat in the river, destroy machinery, and shove their bosses into cold storage rooms. While Sputnik looks around the carnival for somewhere to hide, he encounters Ronnie preparing to hang himself and Judge Booba desperately searching for a liver transplant donor for himself. He threatens Sputnik that unless he helps him find an organ donor, he will open a file concerning his role on the death of his co-worker. While the two talk apart, Ronnie’s purpose is interrupted a second time by the arrival of Jackie, who explains the purpose of his next show while eating jellied veal-foot and pickles. For jellied veal-foot and pickles, Ronnie abandons his suicide attempt. Before the new act starts, Louise dies suddenly. Désirée proposes that they leave to find work elsewhere, but Jackie refuses. While workers set the slaughter-house afire, Ronnie suspects Sputnik of participating by the smell of petrol on his hands. They are interrupted by the dying judge, who complains that Sputnik’s liver shipment is a pig’s and so incompatible to his needs. In despair, he rushes into the burning building. Ronnie watches the judge aghast as Désirée announces that she is losing her waters and Jackie announces that the fire has spread to their carnival stand. Before either man can react, Désirée is delivered of a baby girl. To Sputnik’s joy, Margaret reveals she is pregnant. To cheer up his widowed father, Sputnik in an old magic maneuver with a rope and kerchief makes his wife reappear alive and repeats the maneuver with the judge. But when Jackie requests that his son be transformed into a flying fakir for their next carnival act, he is unable to fly. Jackie next proposes that the judge handle the lighting and financial aspects of their venture while Ronnie and Désirée take off with their daughter elsewhere. "The world belongs to her," he concludes, "beyond the shit, the city, and death."