At the Spring of Comedians, in Montpellier, Ivo van Hove and Julien Gosselin perform theater with a bang

Charles Berling and Justine Bachelet in “After the Rehearsal/Persona”, by Ivo van Hove, in May 2023.

The theater is beyond him and he makes it known. At the Printemps des acteurs, two artists send their shows to the limits of the reasonable. The first, Julien Gosselin, by forcing the limits of what the public can, wants and will endure. The second, Ivo van Hove, by imposing a scene where sobs and cries are the fuel of an epidermal game.

With its staging ofExtinction, according to Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), Julien Gosselin delivers a furious epic of more than five hours in the land of Austrian writing. It is carried by an exceptional team of French and German actors (the latter come from the Volksbühne in Berlin). This shattering journey begins with a techno concert with collective dancing around the DJs. It continues with an immersion in the psychological traps of Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) whose three texts are knitted together (There New dream, The comedy of seductions, Miss Else).

She ventures into Letter from Lord Chandos, by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal (1874-1929) before ending with the words of Bernhard. Only then does the storm calm down, abandoning the sound decibels, the swirls of cigarettes, the hubbub of bodies, the vociferations of the actors, the black and white videos shot live by aerial cameramen. Alone on a platform, the actress Rosa Lembeck calmly says the beginning ofExtinctionthe death of the parents and the brother, the narrator’s return to the family castle where the persistent Nazism of an Austria he loathes lurks.

Behind culture, the worst of humanity

We receive this story with raw nerves, exhausted by the chaos that preceded it. Some have left the room. Those who resisted reconsider what they had just experienced. Enlightened by Bernhard’s lucid rhetoric, they replay the show from its appetizer (the immersive concert) to the main course: two and a half hours in the company of the Schnitzler protagonists, a community of men and women whose Elegance will give birth to the worst of humanity. Filmed by a group of cameras, the actors evolve behind a facade decor juxtaposing a bedroom, a hall, a living room and a bathroom.

Candlesticks, stemmed glasses, cigars, piano and a hearty dinner: the Austrians of the early 20th centurye century are literate epicureans. They talk about music, literature, painting. They are beautiful, spiritual. There is no reason to suspect what will become of them. Except the women on whom the lenses linger and who, their eyes fixed on an invisible horizon, seem to guess that a tragedy is looming. Albertine, Aurélie and Else will methodically undo what makes a couple, family, society, morality. The first by confessing to her husband her sexual urges (The Dream Newsby Schnitzler, inspired Stanley Kubrick to make his film Eye Wide Shut). The second by sleeping with his brother. The third by sacrificing her modesty to save her father from bankruptcy. All three handle masochism and sadism with equal talent, while the civilized veneer of men is insidiously cracking. It is therefore among these beings who are clean about themselves that a perversity matures called to turn into monstrosity, among these phrasemongers who quote Mondrian and Schönberg that Nazism flourishes.

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