Prayer for the French Republic
Maybe Non-Linear is the most clear!
Time moves differently for all of us. At 6pm yesterday, the 7 year old I live with asked me, “is it morning, afternoon, or night?”. He definitely lives a full day between 7am and 2pm; and then another full day between 2pm and 8pm. He also seems to categorize his days according to experience: as he was exiting the dentist at 4pm for the second sunny Thursday in a row with a numb and swollen cheek, he mentioned that he was looking forward to meeting his new classmates - which he had already done in that week in between. I think the novocaine made some sense experience that put him right back to the previous week and erased everything in between.
I am about to compare that story about my 7 year old’s teeth, to a family story about immigration due to thousands of years of genocide. Me and my family live a good life in a great place. The teeth was the experience I had at hand. It is inappropriate and I apologize - but please bear with me.
Let’s start in the beginning. But what is the beginning for a family? We have been in France for a thousand years.
Those are some of the opening words in A Prayer for the French Republic. The families we see in action are 3 generations in 1946 and 3 generations in 2016. I still cannot draw the family tree that links the distant cousins sitting on a couch together; even though it was explained backwards and forwards in the opening of the play. But I don’t think that matters. When the three 20 year olds are happily lighting Hanukah candles in 2016 stage right; and the 15 year old, 40 year old and two 70 year olds are sitting at the post-war table in 1946 stage left - you understand that those happy kids on the couch are the descendants of the survivors sitting at the table.
Loretta Greco must be a great director. Even beautifully written shows are often hard to follow when they get onstage. That show was so entertaining, so beautiful and so clear. I don’t think anyone would have been confused by the two different time periods co-existing onstage. That non-linearity made way more sense than a past to present forward march would have. The perspective shifting followed the progression of the story. It answered the questions in my head right on time. You would get a good understanding of one character’s perspective on how dangerous France feels for him and then you wonder, how does his dad feel about this being a dangerous place for his son? and then the dad pipes up and explains. You see a big family fight, half played out, half narrated; and wonder whether they will work it out before the end of the show. Well the characters from 70 years ago are also wondering how this fight is going to play out - they assemble on the couch and give the play-by-play and color commentary on the 2016 scene, from the vantage of 1946. All of us sometimes wonder what our dead grandma’s would think of something and run this commentary in our minds. It is great to see it played out onstage.
When she told me about the play last spring, Loretta Greco said it was 9 actors and 11 characters. This production was 11 characters and 11 actors. Phew! thank goodness they didn’t try to do any double casting. When I was reading the play, trying to imagine it, I had some trouble finding two characters that would benefit from having the weird brain blips that happen when the same actor plays them both. Thank goodness they harvested some more funds to pay those other 2 actors. If we are worried about an audience being unable to handle high levels of non-linearity, let’s put double casting on probation.
Dad, I think you would like this show; find it funny and follow it well. No what-in-tarnation faces in this audience. The non-linearity in this show is just like my 7 year-old’s toothache - when you have a powerful and unique sensation twice, you live those two moments at once, and the time in between disappears. The minor confusion is over-ridden by the clarity of parity - the ah-ha! I know this place! I’ve been here before! Wait the same thing is happening?!?
At the end of the play, there is a character standing on both sides of the stage - young 15 year old Pierre who got to return to his grandparents with his father, but without his sisters, mother or mother’s family; and older 85 year old Pierre sitting with his son, his daughter, her husband and kids. Trauma is inherited in a number of ways. Even if we didn’t live through something, it certainly feels like we are reliving a personal memory when we repeat the patterns of our parents or grandparents. However, if you live long enough, you do straight up get to see history repeat itself.
That vignette with the 2 families, succeeds at collapsing 70 years to transmit two very particular feelings: being scared for the lives of your kids and feeling hated by your country. Joshua Harmon is right. A typical US theater audience does not have that sense memory anymore. We don’t know what it is like to feel hated by our country to the point that we are afraid for our kids.
My offer stands and expands - let me know if you need tickets for any performance of A Prayer for the French Republic. I can get unlimited student and under 40 tickets, and a couple of over-40 tickets per show.