3/18/2022 CODE NOIR: LES AVENTURES DU PREMIER COMTE DE MONTE CRISTO
Théâtre du Rêve / IGNI Productions
A mes Honnêtes Lecteurs, Citoyens et Citoyennes:
I come to you en (principalement) anglais to discuss the saga of a man mostly lost to history, were it not for the accomplishments of his son, grandson, and further descendants. Please permit me the honor of introducing you to Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, born in the French Colony of St. Domingue 25 March 1762 to a white landowner (the Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and his slave (Marie-Cassette Dumas).
According to French Law as set down by Louis XIV in the Code Noir, a child born of a white father legally married to a slave is (mostly) free, and it was thus for the first thirteen years of Thomas-Alexandre’s life. Until the death of his mother and the failure of his father’s plantation. Exit the Marquis to France, after selling his children back into slavery.
The Marquis eventually buys Thomas-Alexandre’s freedom and brings him to Paris, where slavery has been eliminated. Eventually, the young man joins the Queen’s Brigade until the Revolution, when he fights for the Republic. Soon rising through the ranks and marrying, he achieves glory and honor and becomes a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte.
But, during a disastrous campaign in Egypt. Generals Dumas and Bonaparte have a falling out. Thomas-Alexandre attempts to return home, but runs aground in Taranto Italy, where he is imprisoned by the Neapolitan Army.
Where he remains languishing when first we meet him in Code Noir: Les aventures du premier comte de Monte Cristo, a terrific new play written by Théâtre du Rêve’s Carolyn Cook and elegantly transferred to an on-demand video from IGNI productions.
Despite its video pedigree, this is a remarkably theatrical experience, literalizing Théâtre du Rêve’s name by putting General Dumas’ story within the structure of a dream. We meet a (we presume) contemporary lawyer, Sandrine Boudreaux (played by Ms. Cook), as she goes through the case files for the general, asking him about his life, and morphing from character to character with elusive logic and magical effect. Elements of simple stagecraft aid and abet her transformations – a red cloth swing becomes a sash, a belt, a red cloth swing. Similar stagecraft enhances the settings – blue material becoming a river, a sea, white material becoming a snow-covered Alp, and (maybe I only imagined this one). the desert of Egypt.
But centering it all is General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, beautifully played by Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor with a fervent honesty that underscores his integrity, his courage, his commitment to “Republican” ideals. Ms. Cook and Mr. DeShazor are joined for a single short scene by Michelle Taylor Willis as Marie-Cassette Dumas, the general’s mother. But this is essentially a pas-de-deux of two actors.
I enjoyed the thematic parallels with The Count of Monte Cristo (written by the General’s son, Alexandre Dumas pere). I also respected all the elements of Ms. Cook’s performances, the behind-the-eyes reactions and sub-texts that the camera never misses, the modern colloquial nature of Sandrine Boudreaux -- lines that never seem out of period-place, the fluent French of most of the other characters. the efforts of Ms. Boudreaux to respect the “Butterfly Effect” game and NOT let the General know too much about his own future, the character-specific attitudes and stances and rhythms that are convincing always.
From a technical aspect as well, this show hits every note effectively – the set and lighting by Elisabeth Cooper is a paradoxically confined and claustrophobic space expansively surrounded by open blackness, an island of light that is equally convincing as a dungeon and as a soaring Alp. The simple costumes by Jennifer Schottstaedt are (Dumas’) period-specific but easily transformable to quickly evoke all of Ms. Cook’s characters, The music by Felipe Barrel (who also photographed and directed the video aspects of the piece) is evocative and moody, underscoring the dreamlike nature of the experience. And the overall direction by Lauren Morris keeps the story compelling, the technical elements and character choices all blending beautifully in a tapestry of story and effect.
I truly loved Code Noir: Les aventures du premier comte de Monte Cristo, and equally truly hope you experience it as well. It will be available through March 31 at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/59803. It is in English and French, with subtitles for all the French dialogue.
Until our next correspondence, may all of you remain loyal readers and forever enjoy the blessings of liberty, equality, and brotherhood!
Or, if you prefer, Jusqu'à notre prochaine correspondance, puissiez-vous tous rester de fidèles lecteurs et profiter à jamais des bénédictions de la liberté, de l'égalité et de la fraternité !
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #CodeNoir # Théâtre_du_Rêve)