Siobhan Towey as Eleanor Marx Avling. Photo taken by Julia DePalma.
BOTTOM LINE: If you find yourself in New York wanting to see edgy, original, non-over-produced theatre, here it is.
Doesn’t Everybody Do It In Paris? is a reinterpretation of Madame Bovary, spun in a parallel existence with Eleanor Marx Aveling (Karl Marx’s daughter) who was the first to interpret the novel into English. Emma Bovary, the novel’s heroine, commits suicide after an escape from her country farm life by spending all of her country doctor husband’s money, bankrupting them both and then exhausting her relationships with her lovers. Eerily, Marx Aveling succumbs to a similar end after her common-law husband runs off and marries a young actress while they are still living together. Both die by poisoning themselves.
When I sat down and saw the actors set on stage in pre-show, I was sure I was going to instantly love the piece: I became excited at the thought that it was going to be edgy with multiple projection surfaces and dance. Instead, I got more of a soundscape of French and overtalking, coyly hidden behind obtrusive window panes and not as much choreography as I’d expected. (By the way, I highly suggest reading the program before the show starts so you know what you're seeing.)
Regardless of my expectations, there are some brilliant performances: Siobhan Towey as Eleanor Marx Avling is rather transparent and lovely; I enjoyed watching and listening to her most of all as she speaks so eloquently and simply. She is both earnest and real. Both French speakers (Nadège Néchadi and Nathan Lemoine) are equally poised and mesmerizing. A surprising background player, James Allerdyce (Edward Aveling), has both exquisite expression in thought and in body and I found my eye drawn to him most often.
Most notable about this piece is the staging as well as the set pieces and props: the stage is a tiny ballroom of sorts with old, fold-up theatre chairs and plants in which the characters constantly move around and hide behind – all the more mysterious and scandalous. There are also wooden coat hangers strung from the ceiling with elastic binding the characters who use them to a life they try to either escape from or keep close reigns on. There is also sugar, lots and lots of sugar, representing both the mistook arsenic Bovary uses to commit suicide and the allegory to the infidelity and risqué life style the women sought prior to death.
While visually exciting and mysterious, the fourth wall is pock-marked with three obtrusive windows functioning as both a voyeuristic viewing of the action and as projection surfaces and can make the audience feel cut off from the play. I suggest sitting as close to the front and/or middle as possible as to not miss much. And don’t expect the heightened choreography of a other dance companies here – it’s more of an expressive-actors-who-move-well sort of piece. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting and it is still certainly worth seeing. (Secret exciting note: free beer is served prior to the performance. ALWAYS a good thing.)
(Doesn't Everybody Do It In Paris? plays at the IRT, 154 Christopher Street #3B, through June 26, 2010. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 8pm and 10pm, and Sundays at 6pm. Tickets are $20 and are available at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800.838.3006.)