Fêtes de la Nuit
Written by Charles Mee
Directed by Les Waters
In association with AT&T:OnStage®, administered by Theatre Communications Group
Limited Season · Roda Theatre
January 28–February 27, 2005
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission
Fêtes de la Nuit means “parties of the night,” and as the name suggests, this is a story of love, passion and Paris.
Fêtes is a racy collage that expresses the beauty and complexity of love. It mingles drama, dance and music—including Edith Piaf, great arias from opera, hip hop and French pop music—into a sensual and exuberant celebration of life.
Fêtes reunites the OBIE Award-winning artistic team of playwright Charles Mee and Berkeley Rep Associate Artistic Director Les Waters. Each won the OBIE Award for their Off-Broadway production of Mee’s Big Love. Les most recently staged Eurydice earlier this season here at Berkeley Rep.
Charles L. Mee · Playwright
Les Waters · Director
Annie Smart · Scenic Design
Christal Weatherly · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Jake Rodriguez · Sound Design
Amy Utstein · Dramaturg
Jean Isaacs · Movement Consultant
Dawn-Elin Fraser · Dialect Coach
Michael Suenkel · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Paul Fouquet · New York Casting
Eddie Kurtz · Assistant Director
T. Edward Webster · Assistant Director
Karen Szpaller · Production Assistant
Kristi Johnson · Costume Designer Assistant
Michi Barall · Sumiko
Corinne Blum · Ensemble
James Carpenter · Lartigue
Sally Clawson · Ensemble
Maria Dizzia · Yvette
Lorri Holt · Catherine
Joseph Kamal · Barbesco
Joe Mandragona · Ensemble
Jeffery Lynn McCann · Ensemble
Bruce McKenzie · Jean Francois
Ramiz Monsef · Roland
Maria Elena Ramirez · Nanette
Dileep Rao · Henry
Danny Scheie · Georges
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
At the end of every season, Berkeley Rep’s intrepid telemarketers conduct a survey of our patrons to find out why certain members of the Theatre’s audience choose not to re-subscribe. The results are often illuminating. In 2001, for example, we discovered that the second highest reason for not re-subscribing (the first being “lost my job”) was “Tony Taccone’s obsession with nudity.” This finding caused quite a shock within our organization. I must confess, I have never even been to a strip club and believe nude beaches provide the best proof as to why people need to wear clothes.
There are times in life, however, when nudity is not only a good but a necessary thing. I won’t list all of those occasions here, leaving such a delightful task to the vagaries and interests of your own imagination. More to the point, while the theatre is no different than life in terms of whatever one’s predisposition may be towards the covering or uncovering of the human form, the fact remains that there are certain plays where nudity is delightfully and shockingly natural.
Why do we react so strongly when we see a naked body on stage (or, for that matter, are confronted with any behavior we may regard as inappropriate)? We face images far more violent, erotic and perverse in film and television. But these mediums are not live, and even in their “hottest” form remain somewhat distant from us; we can divorce ourselves from the fact that real people are involved in their creation. The theatre luxuriates in the opposite experience, however. Onstage, everyone is fabulously real and we enjoy a heightened sense of intimacy that allows us to reconnect to what it is human beings really want, what is truly at stake.
Chuck Mee’s new play, Fêtes de la Nuit, uses a number of theatrical strategies, including nudity, to examine our never-ending fascination with the mysteries enshrouding romantic love. Through a series of impressions, Mee and his collaborator extraordinaire, Les Waters, have created a living pictograph of how our collective fantasy life intersects with our real lives, how we move like dancing magnets toward and away from each other, how we are in love with love in spite of the evidence that we might be better off leaving well enough alone. In Mee’s world, impulse triumphs over sustained thought, the worst poetry over the best prose, the insatiable heart over the rational head. For this reason, any narrative in the play that is inclined toward easy reasoning or a simple resolution collapses in the face of what remains wonderfully inexplicable.
I hope you enjoy it, in all of its resplendent glory!
About Fêtes: A conversation with Charles Mee
In the past few years, for one reason or another, I’ve visited Paris quite a lot, and I just love it. I love it for its annoyances and idiosyncrasies and pretensions and arrogance as well as, above all, for the sense that the French know how to enjoy the present moment, how to devote a lot of time to making sure that the simplest events of daily life are filled with pleasure—because, finally, when they die, what they will have had from life, mostly, are the pleasures of daily life. So the bread, the vanishing lines of perspective as you look down the length of a boulevard, the sense of spectacle, of astonishment, that comes from seeing Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower, making love in the afternoon, a glass of wine, the design of a shoe, the little toy sailboats for rent in a public garden, a walk in the Tuilleries gardens, the accordion player on the sidewalk in front of the Cafe de Flore.
And so, doing a piece about Paris was a little like needing to keep a diary or a photograph album so that I won’t forget the pleasures of my own life from the times I’ve been there. And I put it together the way you would put together a collection of snapshots you’ve taken on vacation: some moments, some encounters, some sudden striking images, some music. This is how Paris feels to me.
The title for this piece is taken from the Fetes de la Nuit that I saw in the gardens at Versailles several years ago—fêtes that were supposed to recall the sorts of entertainments that Louis XIV staged for his own pleasure at Versailles—full of huntsmen, hunting dogs, courtiers, ballet dancers and fireworks. Needless to say, my Fêtes are very different: they are the modern world, the democratic world, the global world, the world as seen, not through the eyes of a king, but through the eyes of a citizen.
…And to Caridad Svich about play-making
I appropriate stories (half the time, anyway; the other half I make up). And then to the appropriated stories I add appropriated texts from other sources, so that I make a collage of the materials of the world that we have received, and also of the world we are in the process of making at the moment: this seems to me what people do in their daily lives. I think a story is still vital if it is still being made. I love theater that is made of music and movement and text. When I write, the text never comes first. First I see an event on stage, and, when I’ve begun to see it very clearly and in detail, then it starts speaking.
…And to all of us about what he likes (courtesy of charlesmee.org)
My own work begins with the belief that human beings are, as Aristotle said, social creatures—that we are the product not just of psychology, but also of history and culture, that we often express our histories and cultures in ways even we are not conscious of, that the culture speaks through us, grabs us and throws us to the ground, cries out, silences us. I like plays that are not too neat, too finished, too presentable. My plays are broken, jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns. That feels good to me. It feels like my life. It feels like the world. And then I like to put this—with some sense of struggle remaining—into a classical form, a Greek form, or a beautiful dance theatre piece, or some other effort at civilization.
This piece was composed with the dramaturgical collaboration of Tom Damrauer. Some texts for the piece were inspired by, or taken from, Michi Barall, Elizabeth Anglin, Edmund White, Georges Bataille, the advertisements for Aubade, Guy Debord, Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes, Jean-Luc Godard, Phillipe Meyer, Gertrude Stein, Juan Goytisolo, Francois Truffautand the participants in several workshops conducted with the SITI Theatre Company.
Joseph Pujol (born 1857) was a young man in the army when he discovered his singular skill at farting melodically, which led to his nickname Le Petomane (literally, The Fartist). When friends convinced him to pass wind for fun and profit in music-halls, he eventually headed for Paris and convinced the director of the Moulin Rouge to put him on stage, where he was an instant and outrageous sensation. Le Petomane dressed formally for the act, which included farts in imitation of all ages and stations, as well as sound effects (thunder; cannons; a dressmaker ripping two yards of calico); he smoked from his anus; he farted melodies; he blew out gaslamps. Corsetted women in the audience fainted from laughter. Sigmund Freud and the King of Belgium were equally fascinated. After only a few years at the Moulin Rouge, however, Le Petomane left (on bad terms with the management) to start his own club, Theatre Pompadour, which prospered for many years as a kind of home-grown variety show.
Night life: Where life is a cabaret
The Folies Bergeres opened in 1869, featuring a series of operettas, mimes, songs, acrobatics and comedic sketches. The first vaudeville house in Paris, it was met with indifference by the public and spent several decades struggling to establish its identity. Then in 1890, the merchant Edouard Marchand decided to enhance the repertoire with dancing girls, and the rest is history. Over the ensuing century the nightclub hosted many great dancing divas, most famously, Josephine Baker. Today, the Folies Bergeres is home to musical reviews such as ‘80s Fever and California Dream Men.
In 1889 the Moulin Rouge (named for its landmark red windmill) opened to become one of the first cabarets in Paris. In the 1890s it was the home of the first fully-nude striptease; the dancer (supposedly playing Cleopatra) was jailed and students in the Latin Quarter protested furiously. Today the entertainment is reminiscent of Las Vegas nightclubs.