The Children of Truffaut
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 15, 2007
Sometimes we are influenced by our predecessors in our respective fields of art and we don't even know it. In his new play, The Children of Truffaut, playwright/director Eric Bland explores this scope of influence by looking at those inspired by French New Wave Film director Francois Truffaut and in turn writing a play suggested by the films of Truffaut's artistic "children."
Bland's play is pure inspiration. He does not lift scenes or dialogue from any of the movies. All the text and situations are original. His goal is to examine the atmosphere and tone in these films in a theatrical setting. The directors he chose are Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Fassbinder, Federico Fellini, and Andrei Tarkovsky, highly influential filmmakers from France, German, Italy, and Russia respectively.
There are eight characters, one male and one female from each film director, and they relate to each other as couples and sort of tell their "stories" through text and dream-like movement. They also relate to all the other couples, swapping partners and entangling their motives, styles, and personal histories. At one point, Bland has all the females leave the stage and just the men talk (though not necessarily to each other). This play seems to be about love—the search for love, the meaning of love, unrequited love, and even suicide for love. One character is so eager to find love that he actually drinks Venus juice (or so he says).
There is not really a discernible plot to the play but what is more than evident is the ambiance. The dialogue swings from highly poetic speeches and exchanges to extremely trivial banter in the middle of an apparently serious situation. Much of the dialogue is also very metaphysical with the characters scrutinizing some perspective or other. The scenes are structured in a sort of elliptical pattern as opposed to a linear storyline, so the audience is forced to put many things together for themselves. This is a characteristic of Godard films. Bland certainly hits on all the various aspects of each filmmaker's style—Fassbinder's search for love, Fellini's hallucinatory images in ordinary situations, and Tarkovsky's metaphysics, stress on beauty, and sense of losing time.
One of the most striking aspects of this show is Bland's direction. His vision for the show is crystal clear and his staging looks gorgeous. There are characters placed at all levels, the pacing is alternately fast and slow, and he leads the eye just exactly were he wants it. The stage, by the end of the play, is a beautiful mess. An actor rubs yogurt on himself, a banana is squished into the stage, and there are countless other little bits and pieces everywhere.
The acting is great. Each member of the cast seems to be steeped in the filmmaker's style he or she portrays. I was particularly impressed with Samara Bay. Her opening monologue and accompanying physicality is so quirky and striking that I couldn't take my eyes off her. Scott Eckert is also very memorable in his role. The rest of the cast—Hollis Witherspoon, Charlie Hewson, Brian Barrett, Victoria Keap, Jesse Liebman, and Bibiane Choi—all deserve a clap on the back for their excellent work.
Bland tells his audience that they don't need to know the film directors or their films in order to appreciate the show. And he's right. The show stands on its own feet, as if Bland had never heard of any of the directors but was influenced by them regardless.