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Andre Ernotte’s Show Goes On
This article by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on March 24, 1999. All rights reserved.
Andre Ernotte, the Belgian director, was too ill to
begin rehearsals in February at McCarter Theater for Moliere’s "The
Learned Ladies," a production that he conceived. The 55-year-old
Ernotte died on March 8 of liver disease. Daniel Fish took over direction
of the play, which opens on Friday, March 26, and runs through April
While Ernotte received considerable praise for his direction at New
York’s Vineyard Theater of Polly Pen’s progressive new musicals, including
"Goblin Market," "Bed and Sofa," and "Christina
Alberta’s Father," Ernotte’s artistry was particularly admired
by his long-time friend Emily Mann, McCarter’s artistic director.
Mann believed the Moliere farce, "The Misanthrope," to be
the perfect vehicle for Ernotte’s McCarter debut in 1996. And she
was right. The production was warmly received. Another go-round with
Moliere was planned for Ernotte. It was not to be.
I met with Ernotte at McCarter in March, 1996, when he was directing
"Misanthrope." When I asked Ernotte if his staging of Moliere’s
classic 17th-century farce was going to be as challenging for him
as working with Pen on her cutting-edge contemporary work, he answered
without hesitation. "With both plays I am blending high techniques
with passion. I thrive on it." Ernotte left his passionate mark
on the theater.
"My whole existence and my way of doing things is based on paradox,"
he explained, as he recalled his days as a theater student in Brussels.
"Because the theater directors there were so cerebral, I studied
acting. Also film was much more focused than theater. So I studied
film." Ernotte’s first feature film, "High Street," was
chosen to represent Belgium at the Oscars and acted as a springboard
to bring him to New York.
Although he had directed other plays by Moliere and by Marivaux, Ernotte
had never produced "The Misanthrope." He confessed that it
was Emily Mann who helped him decide on this popular classic European
play to fill out "the landscape of the season." Ernotte most
recently collaborated at McCarter with Polly Pen, the theater’s artist-in-residence,
in November, 1998, on the staged reading of Pen’s work-in-progress
If the ego of this internationally-respected director was worn attractively
on his sleeve, it enabled us to discuss two qualities we both agreed
he brought to a play — substance and pizzazz. These were Ernotte’s
personal prerequisites. It was apparent that Ernotte wanted people
to know he had the best of all worlds — "I’m having my cake
and eating it, too" — staging massive, high-impact shows in
Europe while doing interesting new work in New York. That new work
has been seen at Playwrights Horizons, Manhattan Theater Club, and
at the Public Theater, where Joseph Papp showcased Ernotte’s film
Ernotte stressed the importance of creating an ensemble on stage.
He would not tolerate a stage of stars who inflict their own "method"
— be it Kabuki or psychobabble — on the same play. "Image
creating" is what appealed to Ernotte, who cited directors Robert
Wilson, Richard Foreman, and Lee Bruer as some of his favorites. He
commended Mike Nichols for his seemingly invisible directorial touch.
Yet it was the epic direction of Peter Brook that Ernotte said he
But there were the other guides who acted as an inspiration to Ernotte.
He cited Gurdjieff’s "Meetings with Remarkable Men" as a meaningful
book in his life. He also expressed his interest in Asian philosophy,
Zen in particular. "Philosophy is more important to me than art,"
he said. "Meditation is more important to me than success or achievement."
It is the combination of serenity, distance, witnessing, as well as
a social conscience, that led Ernotte to devote part of his time to
working with the homeless and the dying. Ernotte found he could merge
his arts skills with social service work. He created a program for
hospitals in New York that is based on creative writing, improvisation,
and poetry. With another group, Hearts and Voices, that works with
the dying, Ernotte said he was able to "join spirituality with
the arts." This was my meeting with a remarkable man.
— Simon Saltzman
Place, 609-683-8000. Opening night for Moliere’s lesser known satire
about a clique of bookish woman under the spell of a money-hungry
literary fake. Through April 11. Friday, March 26, 8 p.m.
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