Presented by Company Charniere in association with Sherri Kotimsky at the Theatre 3, 311 W. 43 St., NYC, Aug. 5-24.
Robert Frost wrote: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." This is certainly not true in French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce's tale of the return of a prodigal son. As here presented in a translation by Lucie Tiberghien, who also acts as director of this superior production, the homecoming merely reopens wounds that have never healed. Louis (Michael Emerson), a writer, is suffering an unspecified terminal illness and, after ignoring his family for some years, has now arrived home bent on sharing this awful knowledge. His mother (Sandra Shipley) is all courtly reminiscences, his younger sister, Suzanne (Jennifer Mudge), flips between excitement and abuse, while his younger brother, Antoine (Stephen Belber), is blazing anger personified. Antoine's wife, Catherine (Katie Firth), is the levelheaded observer, but one still not prepared to offer any comfort to this prodigal.
Written in 1990, four years after playwright Lagarce was diagnosed with AIDS (he died in 1995), this drama is very much a farewell letter to the world. Though often elegiac, the play does suffer from a split personality. We have Louis' monologues to the audience, which are sharp, original meditations on life and death. The family scenes, even with several people on stage, are also mostly monologues, with each member given an abandonment aria. These arias, filled with stylistic repetitions and other artifices, often seem like interior monologues posing as dialogue. They can make for heavy sledding for both actors and audience and have none of the appealing urgency of Louis' direct addresses.
The cast is first rate, led by Emerson, who gives Louis an immediate poignancy. Belber, who plays the angry brother, is the closely watched playwright who created "Tape" and "Finally" and who also already knows much about monologues. And for providing this too-infrequent glimpse of French theatre, we're grateful to Company Charniere, something Franco-American that's truly nourishing.