Comédie-Française Electrifies at Park Avenue Armory, New York

NEW York was recently graced by legendary French theatre company Comédie-Française, which was returning to the city after an absence of over a decade. Having been in the business for more than three centuries, the company has performed over 3000 plays during the course of its life, attracting the most revered writers, directors and actors. On this occasion, the troupe was collaborating with Belgian talent Ivo van Hove for the North American premiere of The Damned.

"THE DAMNED" A Comédie Française Production Presented in Collaboration with Park Avenue Armory<br /> Based on Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli’s Work<br /> Ivo van Hove, Director<br /> Jan Versweyveld, Scenography and Lighting Designer<br /> An D’Huys, Costume Designer<br /> Tal Yarden, Video Designer<br /> Eric Sleichim, Original Sound Designer and Sound Concept<br /> Bart van den Eynde, Dramaturgy<br /> CAST:<br /> Sylvia Berge_The Nurse and lisa's mother<br /> Eric Genovese-Wolf von Aschenbach<br /> Denis Podalydes_-Baron von Essenbeck<br /> Alexandre Pavloff-the Commissioner and rector<br /> Guillaume Gallienne_Friedrich Bruckmann<br /> Elsa Lepoivre_Baronne Sophie von Essenbeck<br /> Loic Corbery_Herbert Thallman<br /> Adeline d'Herby-Elisabeth Thallman<br /> Clement Hervieu-Leger-Gunther von Essenbeck<br /> Jennifer Deckrer-Olga<br /> Didier Sandre_Baron Joachim von Essenbeck<br /> Christophe Montenez -Martin von Essenbeck<br /> Sebastian Baulain_Janeck<br /> Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger.Ivo van Hove’s The Damned at Park Avenue Armory – a stage and screen spectacle. Photograph: Stephanie Berger

Based on the screenplay of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 Oscar-nominated film, van Hove’s production evolved within the most perfect setting – Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall – which echoed the sinister monumentality of the play’s themes. Known for his experimental, unconventional theatrical direction, van Hove developed the play with long-time collaborator Jan Versweyveld, a gifted scenographer and lighting designer who created the exquisite, awe-inspiring set.

The Damned is most certainly a dark and sobering tale. Set in 1933, it centres around the high-status von Essenbeck family during the beginning stages of Nazi rule in Germany. The story that unfolds details the destruction that occurs at the hands of self-interest, corruption and dictatorships, not to mention an obsession with power.

"THE DAMNED" A Comédie Française Production Presented in Collaboration with Park Avenue Armory. Photographed on opening night performance, July 17, 2018. Based on Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli’s Work Ivo van Hove, Director Jan Versweyveld, Scenography and Lighting Designer An D’Huys, Costume Designer Tal Yarden, Video Designer Eric Sleichim, Original Sound Designer and Sound Concept Bart van den Eynde, Dramaturgy CAST: Sylvia Berge_The Nurse and lisa's mother Eric Genovese-Wolf von Aschenbach Denis Podalydes_-Baron von Essenbeck Alexandre Pavloff-the Commissioner and rector Guillaume Gallienne_Friedrich Bruckmann Elsa Lepoivre_Baronne Sophie von Essenbeck Loic Corbery_Herbert Thallman Adeline d'Herby-Elisabeth Thallman Clement Hervieu-Leger-Gunther von Essenbeck Jennifer Deckrer-Olga Didier Sandre_Baron Joachim von Essenbeck Christophe Montenez -Martin von Essenbeck Sebastian Baulain_Janeck Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger.The Damned, a Comédie Française Production, presented in collaboration with Park Avenue Armory. Photograph: Stephanie Berger

The cast of actors in The Damned is superb. Performing in French (with English supertitles), the leads are powerful in their depiction of complex characters: the short-lived head of the family Baron Joachim (Didier Sandre); the crooked, deplorable son Konstantin (Denis Podalydès); and the elegeant Sophie, Joachim’s widowed daughter-in-law (played with fantastic frostiness by Elsa Lepoivre). The stand-out of this production, however, is Sophie’s son, Martin. Christophe Montenez is utterly brilliant as the weird, incestuous, deeply stylish young man who continues to compel from start to finish.

Witnessing such talent is a special thing; acknowledging that Comédie-Française is the oldest national theatre company in the world, having been founded in 1680, only adds to this accolade.

Spectacular dramatics – The Damned at Park Avenue Armory. Photograph: Stephanie Berger.

Originally composed of only 27 actors, the troupe’s members now consist of over double this number, all of whom work exclusively for the company. When in Paris, make sure to visit one of Comédie-Française’s three stages: the Salle Richelieu,  the Vieux Colombier and  the Studio Theatre. The company is extremely prolific – around 800 performances are presented in total annually. Given its history, as well as the recent American premiere of The Damned, there is no doubt that Comédie-Française will continue to fulfil the brilliance of its mission statement, which, through artistic excellence, seeks to affirm both difference and tradition.

by Derby Jones

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