New Review: The Tidings Brought to Mary

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tidings

For Back Stage.

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Here’s the review:

Textbooks call Paul Claudel‘s 1912 play The Tidings Brought to Mary — now being sensitively revived by the Storm Theatre and Blackfriars Repertory Theatre — a mystery. Really, though, it’s an allegory of the contrasts between flesh and spirit, of love in its physical and religious dimensions. To work as theatre, actors must imbue Claudel’s lyrical and fantastic narrative with a willingness to forego 20th-century realistic-acting codes, to surrender to a text unbelievable to modern eyes and ears. Under Peter Dobbins direction, several actors do this well, while others fall short.

Set in the 15th century, the play opens with dialogue between Pierre De Craon (Douglas Taurel), an architect of cathedrals and real-life scion of ancient French nobility, and Violaine (Erin Beirnard), the pure 18-year-old daughter of well-to-do Anne Vercors (Ross DeGraw) and his wife, Elizabeth (Jenny D. Green). Violaine loves De Craon, but he has leprosy. Still, she kisses him — out of pity, not lust. In this version of the play (Claudel wrote two), De Craon then vanishes for the remainder of the play.

The action shifts to Anne, who announces he’ll leave his family to visit the Holy Land. This was tantamount to a death sentence in medieval times, but in a world in which French kings are competing for a crown and aspiring popes are jockeying for access to St. Peter’s throne, Anne believes he must supplicate himself to God, so the people’s allegiances can be clear. He marries Violaine off to Jacques (Harlan Work), whom she also loves, and gives him his wealth. Alas, bitter Mara (Laura Bozzone), Violaine’s sister, also loves Jacques-and torpedoes the marriage by telling him of Violaine’s kiss to Pierre. Indeed, leprosy is already visible on the breast of Violaine, who is quickly banished to a life of Christlike suffering. Later, the miraculous rebirth of Mara’s dead child will be attributed to Violaine. And Anne will return — not in time to see his wife, who dies in his absence, but to comfort Violaine at death’s door.

On Czerton Lim’s bare square set with a topsoil floor, Taurel and DeGraw make good impressions, while Beirnard does especially well as Violaine, whom Claudel depicts as so saintly it borders on absurdity. Work and Bozzone are less secure in their roles-perhaps there are too many modern cadences in their speeches. Green is even less sure as poor Elizabeth, taking the passive-wife role too literally. Still, these actors stand above those playing leprous villagers in Act 2’s opening scene. They deserved to be banished.

Presented by the Storm Theatre and Blackfriars Repertory Theatre
at the Paradise Factory, 64 E. Fourth St., NYC.
March 17-April 4. Thu.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performance Wed., March 18, 7:30 p.m.)
(212) 868-4444 or Smart Tix.