In the current festival of French plays, planners at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts are concentrating on the contemporary and the intimate. Titled “Seuls en Scene,” which translates loosely to “Alone on Stage,” this eighth annual French Festival features six modern plays, five of which are limited to one actor. The sixth allows for a crowd of two.
American storyteller Don DeLillo provided the text and narrative for the recently presented “Le marteau et la faucille,” an adaptation by director Julien Gosselin of the author’s “Hammer and Sickle,” translated by Marianne Veron.
Gosselin’s production showed the energy and engrossing drive that can come from a single performer telling a complex and timely story. Actor Joseph Drouet remains seated center stage; a microphone and video camera in front of him.
Within an hour he has presented DeLillo’s tale of a white-collar prisoner who comes to understand the giddiness of freedom, even mundane, robotic freedom following a dream in which an insistent newscaster seems to be looking directly at him, a fraudulent financial trader, while reporting the recession of 2008.
For all his relative stillness, and the audience seeing the actor’s projected image just above his live person, Drouet is a commanding presence, his voice drilling out the trader’s saga in an urgent, compelling staccato, as if the prisoner’s mind were racing, and he couldn’t wait to share his thoughts, his conditions, and one specific dream.
The only visuals are of him in video above himself and the English supertitles that make “Le marteau et la faucille” accessible to those who are not fluent in French, although many in the audience were, based on conversations heard before and after the performance.
Accompany his rhythmic narrating is a pulsating beat that seems like an exaggerated news ticker and has a lot more resonating echo. The sound combines with Drouet’s voice to create a more theatrical experience than reciting into a camera would be.
Throughout the piece it is the behavior of traders and their role in economic upheavals that establishes DeLillo’s point that people are responsible for their actions and for what might happen in the world, and that the excitement of being instrumental in a breakneck business may pale when one is confined.
Trading, and trading dishonestly are satirized as Jerold falls into a dream in which two female newscasters from an actual program morph into his daughters and seem to be accusing him, on television, of causing international mayhem.
Drouet rivets you to all of this. And as he plays the female newscaster, his voice changes, electronically, to a bright woman’s timbre. He also employs different voices, usually lighter, less intense voices for characters other than Jerald, such as his cellmate and some illustrious inmates.
Gosselin uses light effectively. Different shades go through a quick review at the beginning of the show before settling into a jaundiced yellow that provides a sense of Jerald’s whereabouts and the shallowness of his existence.
While “Le Marteau and la Faucille” has ended its run at the French Festival, this week’s offerings are “Blablabla,” a piece without a story but about words and how people hear them by Emmanuelle Lafon with music by Joris Lacoste and performed by Anna Carlier (Wednesday at 4 and 8 p.m. at the Wallace Theater in the Lewis Arts Complex);
“La Loi Des Prodiges (Ou Le Reforme Goutard),” about how a French legislator developed an abiding hatred for culture, the arts, and artists, written and performed by Francois de Brauer (Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m., at the Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street, Princeton);
And “Radio Live,” a program performed by three French broadcasters — Aurelie Charon, Caroline Gillet, and Amelie Bonnin — whose program is heard and hailed throughout the world (Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. at the Wallace Theater).
“Seuls en Scene” performances are free; reservations required. 609-258-9220 or arts.princeton.edu.