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July 24, 2014
Friday, January 3, 2014

Le prénom returns for summer season

By Julio Nakamurakare
Herald Staff

Successful production stays in town with a new lead, Federico D’Elía

The trend started a few years ago: the biggest hits of BA’s theatre season normally take a break near year-end and then travel to the most populous summer resorts (namely, Mar del Plata and Villa Carlos Paz). Now, some simply stay in town and continue to run in spite of the sweltering temperatures here.

It’s the case of Le prénom, the comédie brillante by French playwrights/screenwriters Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patelliere that made a seamless transition from movie to stage play. Deservedly so, because Le prénom packs a wealth of comedic resources that eventually reveal a profound message about friendship, relationships, human flaws and virtues.

The local production of Le prénom was a runaway hit at BA’s Multiteatro since March last year, with a magnificent directorial début by actor Arturo Puig and featuring a uniformly good cast made up of Germán Palacios, Carlos Belloso, Mercedes Funes, Jorgelina Aruzzi and Peto Menahem. In the summer rerun (opening on January 8), Palacios is replaced by another great comedian, Federico D’Elía.

Several minutes into Le prénom, it becomes apparent that the authors have seen and drawn inspiration from Yasmina Reza’s worldwide stage hit ART, which Buenos Aires itself had an version of starring three leading men whose chemistry sent sparks flying during the play’s entire runtime.

Like ART, Le prénom hinges around an anecdote which, under normal circumstances, would not scale up to a scandalous melee that threatens the balance and very existence of two couples and a mutual friend whose sexual orientation is never talked about, that is, not until an unexpected event reveals everyone’s true identity and intent. Although the structure of Le prénom has been engineered with accurate attention to detail, the play itself does not amount to little more than a formulaic piece based on anecdotal evidence; the scaffolding is so solid that Le Prénom becomes formidably stable.

The themes dealt with in Le prénom are humankind’s hypocrisy and petty navel gazing, the need for mutual approval among peers, and the rules of conduct implicit in all relationships. This type of dramedie relies heavily on well-proven formulas. Success or failure depend largely on the work of director and performers, who must stitch together predictable scenes and concepts into a coherent whole without giving away the fact that the play is not very strong on content but rather heavily dependant on rendition. The director’s and the actors’, that is.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Le prénom — which, for understandable cultural reasons, local producers have kept followed by the Spanish translation in brackets, rather like an afterthought — is a direct allusion to a presumably negligible affair: choosing a baby’s name.

But “choosing” is not the real problem: Vincent (Germán Palacios in last year’s production, Federico D’elía this summer) is the father of the unborn child. He has apparently made up his mind and won’t budge event after his choice of name for the baby causes surprise at first and then indignation, followed by intellectual and moral discussion as to the appropriateness of the name: Adolph.

Although the name itself need not necessarily be associated with the infamous Hitler, the connection is immediately made by everyone at the dinner party, and Vincent seems all the more pleased and amused to have raised the ire, disbelief and ferocious disapproval of his friends.

This is the minor incident that triggers the action in Le prénom, and you’d be right to assume that this is going to be predictable and unoriginal. Both adjectives would seem to fit the play much in the same manner that the controversial prénom, Adolph, properly underlines the absurdity of certain associations. Isn’t Adolph, after all, a rather common if not quite likeable name for a baby boy?

If the action of Le prénom were shifted to Argentina today, I guess the controversial name would certainly be Jorge Rafael, which stands to reason, for the name combination is not that frequent while the constituent members in isolation do not provoke condemning connections. Of course, all these musings are immaterial and are just an excuse to kickstart the action and keep it rolling as everyone involved in the discussion feels they have something to say and then get involuntarily caught in the melee. As befits this type of conventional story, the initial anecdote gives way to inevitable soul searching and baring, revelations of long-kept secrets — truly shocking to some characters as they see their artificially maintained order turned upside down.

L’AGENT PROVOCATEUR. Vincent, an extraordinarily successful real estate agent, arrives at the dinner party with his wife, Ana (Mercedes Funes), a fashion designer who has made a name for herself in the highly competitive haute couture world. The hosts are Pierre (Peto Menahem), a leftwing academic who holds almost everyone else in contempt, and his wife Elizabeth (Jorgelina Aruzzi), who has given up her own academic studies for the sake of family and household.

Last on the guest list is Claude (Carlos Belloso), an accomplished classical musician whom everyone assumes to be a closeted gay because he fits certain stereotypes and nothing is known about his amorous life. The evidence is there: he’s never dated a woman or wooed a lady (not that his friends know of), keeps a tight lid on his sentimental life, is fond of all the fine arts (including opera and ballet), and yes, when it comes to pop, he’s a fan of Madonna and Lady Gaga. Adding to these gay cliches, his demeanour is perceived as effeminate, without the macho swagger expected of any man worth this gender classification. On top of everything, Claude has a weakness for flamboyant attire and colour combination.

Although Claude is not the story’s point of contention, his character does perform a pivotal role in the narrative development, mainly on account of actor Carlos Belloso’s adroitness and the nonchalant manner in which he spills the beans, almost silently but with an unexpectedly bombastic effect.

Scraping beneath the surface, nothing much happens by way of action in the first half (well, one third, maybe) of Le prénom. The amusing bits consist of ingenious word play and effective use of an omniscient narrator (Vincent), who describes the evening’s situations and the characters’ public personalities, hinting at the things they keep under wraps.

Vincent, who jumps out of the frame and back on stage as the originator of all the confusion, verbal sparring and ensuing brawl, keeps his cool and aloofness in spite of all the misgivings about the need for and actual efficiency of an on-off narrator. His tone could have been solemn, but director Arturo Puig endows Vincent with the right amount of cynicism and good-natured humour to win audiences over.

Compared to other plays which make good use of similar structural devices (ART, Carnage), Le prénom is much lighter fare, perhaps inconsequential in spite of all the lies, deceptions and resentment revealed in the course of what’s meant to be a peaceful, fun evening among longtime friends.

WHERE & WHEN

Le prénom, written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patelliere. Directed by: Arturo Puig. With: Federico D’elía, Carlos Belloso, Mercedes Funes, Jorgelina Aruzzi, Pato Menahem. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 9pm. Saturdays at 9pm and 11pm. Sundays at 9pm. Tickets: $220.

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