The novella L’Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras was first published in 1967 and Duras adapted it for stage in 1968. The stage version is two interviews about a murder that was discovered when body parts, except the head, were found on trains that all passed through one spot. It’s currently back at La Mama because too many people missed it last year.
As the murderer, Claire, confessed before it opens, the mystery of the story is who she is and why she killed her deaf-mute cousin. Claire’s husband of 20 years, Pierre, is interviewed first, setting expectations and questions about Claire.
Unlike monologue, where characters tend to talk to the audience (and done extraordinarily well at Red Stitch this month in Dead Centre and Sea Wall), the presence of the interviewer gives the audience the closeness of fly-on-the-wall observation without the emotional intimacy of being in the characters’ heads. This distance lets us ask far more than the interviewer does and more than the characters want.
The story is filled with answers, but few, if any, to what we ask.
Director Laurence Strangio has cut back the production so that all is left is characters experiencing the story as it happens.
With indicative costumes and a black empty stage, each sit, listen and react. The world is in the text and the text is in the hands and souls of the actors.
Jillian Murray and Robert Meldrum are the actors, each acting as interviewer to the other. These are performances where actor and technique disappear. Both are totally in the moment and not even a split second ahead of their charcters. (Listen and react.) Pierre and Claire know their truth and secrets and keep them from interviewer and audience. There are no cheeky hints to let us into their heads or to know more than they do. And there’s nothing to ensure that audience, or interviewer, ask the right questions.
L’Amante Anglaise is disconcerting in how it engages. It’s no more than two people in a space, but the world they create is vivid and real, and Pierre and Claire are unforgettable.