Programming / Play
Kean is a declaration of love before anything else.
A declaration of absolute admiration
Of even more absolute trust
It’s not a love affair I’m talking about
No, it is the one that sometimes happens – for our greatest happiness – between great, immense, artists
That, in this case, of an immense author of novels and theatre, for an immense actor – it is about this absolute admiration, about this: but how does he do that? enchanted and untiring, which will allow both of them to create a totally major work.
Many plays, many films, are written for actors. And when an author writes for a particular actor, it’s because he has him so much in mind that he can give him something to become even more immense, as if the author were creating a playground “made for you, oh please, please play with it, play on it, and enchant us again, as you do so, so well.“
Kean is in that category.
It is a strange piece, in many ways.
First of all, it was written twice.
The first time by Alexandre Dumas, the second by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is Sartre’s play that is currently being performed and presented – he did not want to put his name on it and left the authorship of the work to Dumas.
Dumas wrote it for the most adored actor in Paris: Frederick Lemaître. He said of him: “the genius of violence, strength, anger, irony, fantasy, buffoonery was in him”.
And he offered him the play.
This work catapulted Frederick Lemaître into our national glories – a few years later, in one of the great films of French cinema, Children of Paradise, Lemaître appeared as a character, played by Pierre Brasseur – the circle was completed, the actor became a character :
You will tell me that all this, madam, is a pretty story, it is true, but a pretty story does not necessarily make a pretty play – this is even more true.
But since the author, Alexandre Dumas, must be, by himself, a true monument of epic, flamboyant, romantic stories, he would have had to force himself to miss his piece.
He did not force himself, he was not crazy.
So the play was, is, obviously, absolutely great.
Kean tells the story of an English actor – a great Shakespearean actor – all of London is after this man. He is needed in the salons. He is so incredible. Charming – Handsome – Fantastic – But there is a limit: he is only an actor. He can approach the ladies and put his arm around their waist – but further than that, he can’t. It’s not right. He is not from the “right social background”.
A lady pretends to fall madly in love with him – she will leave everything and become an actress.
I don’t tell you the rest.
But when Dumas wrote this, he had no tenderness for those people who cover you with roses and flowers – and throw you out as soon as the party is over.
When Sartre takes up the play, he pushes even further the madness in which Kean is plunged – everything becomes false, he can no longer live a normal human relationship – he can no longer know what is true and what is fake, what is learned, what is agreed upon, and would not the art and the words of the theatre be, in the end, truer than the words we say in life?
But the play is not limited to this – and already this is beautiful: what better defense for the actors than this, which shows how much we can drive them crazy, how much we lock them into a so, so tiny category, how much we suspect them of always lying – he’s playing the actor, so he’s lying – it’s so easy to condemn, right?
But, yes – but again – because Dumas is an absolutely immense author, because he has a sense of the stage, of grandeur, of epic and drama, and of comedy when necessary, he offered the actors of Kean the most beautiful play. Oh yes, Frederick Lemaître must have been magnificent in this role, he had everything to express and say: his passion, his strength, his violence, his contempt for those who condemn him, his hesitation in the face of the so conventional loves with which he was inundated – he too, like Kean.
So Altair will have to make his declaration of love to the actors :
proposing Kean is such a nice way to declare our love and devotion – they deserve it, they are unbearable but so great – we are unbearable – but ? are we great ?
Featured Image : Jean-Paul Belmondo was Kean, in 1988 – Théâtre de Marigny.