Tonight I traveled to the edge of Paris to the Theatre Monfort to see ‘Loin Quartier’ or ‘Far Neighborhood.’
The performance was a theatrical staging of a Japanese manga about a middle-aged man who, while commuting to work, has a powerful memory from his childhood about his family and his father. Minimally staged, the setting was dominated by large brightly colored panels and levels upstage that suggested the graphic blocks of a manga or comic strip. 8 actors portrayed everyone from the extended family and their dog, to school students and neighbors. Though my french is still far from perfect, I was able to understand most of the story – the text was simple and the story-telling was clear and inventive. Particularly striking were the moments that suggested the variety of perspectives of the typical comic strips – peering at the characters from above through trees or looking down on the children’s bedrooms. These techniques aren’t new, but the elegance and simplicity with which this company creates them catches you off guard making them all the more captivating. I missed many nuances in the text but the emotional arc was impossible not to follow – from his naive childhood to the revealing moment when the lead character discovers his father having an affair. 2 musicians re-enforced the dual tone of playful and painful memories.
Towards the end when the boy make his painful discovery the panels move downstage and literally collapse revealing the broken family behind – his father having disappeared forever.The opening was just as striking. A large white cloth is pulled up from its corners creating a bowl of fabric and with small white rags the actors wash the black floor ritualistically preparing the stage for the story about to be told.I have yet to see an elaborate french set – the energy in creating the design seems to be completely focused on how it works with the actors.