Now that you’ve mastered exchanges with waiters, bar talk, conversation at dinner parties and viewing French movies without subtitles, are you ready to take the leap to French theater? Here’s your chance learn or relearn some of the classics of French theater while also getting a glimpse of the Menilmontant quarter by night.
In a series of admirable performances by Compagnie Chouchenko, a theater company specialized in classics of French theater and literary, Corneille’s Le Cid, Molière’s Dom Juan and Hugo’s Les Misérables are being played on alternate nights at Vingtième Théâtre in Paris’s 20th arrondissement from January 14 to March 6, 2016.
Playing within sparse scenery, the company does a terrific job of filling the stage with the rich sentiment and conflict of these three works. The performances are straightforward without losing any of the drama or humor of the moment, while the staging is effectively fluid despite its apparent simplicity.
Having attended all three plays in the past week, I’m impressed by how convincingly the actors assume their various roles from evening to evening, sometimes in two roles in a single play.
Manon Montel, one of the company’s founders, is remarkably versatile not only as an actress in all three but as the plays’ director. Léo Paget, Franck Jouglas and Nathan Metral and the rest of the troupe hold up their end of the bargain with dramatic or comedic flourish.
If concerned that you might not understand all of the text you might look up a summary of the play beforehand. And here are some extracts to practice your listening skills.
Les Misérables is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s bestselling novel, not to be confused with the musical.
Le Cid is the most difficult to understand for those who aren’t fluent in French because performed in verse, yet it’s a play to know if you want to score culture points in Paris.
Le Cid is performed Thursdays, Dom Juan Fridays and Les Misérables Saturdays, Sundays and some Thursday afternoons. For the full schedule see here.
Vingtième Théâtre, 7 rue des Plâtrières, 20th arrondissement. Metro Menilmontant or Père Lachaise or Gambetta. The theater receives subsidies from the City of Paris and the 20th arrondissement. Tickets are reasonably priced 25€ (13€ for students) and advance reservation is likely unnecessary for evening performances.
Post-theater eats: Evening performances begin at 7:30pm and end, without intermission, at about 9pm—a perfect time to go to dinner in the area. There are plenty of cafés, bars and inexpensive restaurants around along Rue de Menilmontant and nearby Rue Sorbier. My own after-dinner meals : Italian fare at La Terre Madre, 46 rue de Menilmontant, after Dom Juan at ; a burger at Blend, 19 rue de Menilmontant, after Les Miserables; good dive bar fare at L’Entrepot’s, 68 rue de Menilmontant/2 rue Sorbier, after Le Cid.