23 November 2015

My afternoon at the theater in Paris


It was Sunday, November 1 — three weeks ago yesterday and twelve days before the horrible events of Friday the 13th in Paris — that I arrived in the City of Light under sunny, warm skies. I had reserved a hotel room in the Latin Quarter and bought myself a ticket to go see a matinée on the Grands Boulevards late that afternoon. It was a play written by Isabelle Mergault and the star was the famous French singer and dancer Sylvie Vartan. The venue was a place called Le Théâtre des Variétés, not far from the old Chartier restaurant near the intersection of the boulevard Montrmartre and the rue Montmartre.

I had Air France airlines and France 2 television to thank for getting me to the theater in Paris for the first time in many years. Air France had cancelled my early morning flight and put me on a plane with a 1:30 p.m. takeoff on Monday, November 2. That made me decide to spend the night before the flight in a hotel in central Paris rather than at a boring airport hotel. I'd have plenty of time to get out to the airport the next day. Then Walt and I were watching the news one day and the final segment was an interview with Mergault and Vartan. They were hyping their upcoming play. We'd seen Isabelle Mergault in a one-woman comedy show in Paris many (maybe 20) years ago, and Vartan still has a kind of superstar status in France after her long signing career in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
Rather than risk being a Sunday afternoon shut-in in Paris if the weather turned out to be lousy, which would be typical on November 1, I decided to buy a ticket to the show. It was called Ne Me Regardez Pas Comme Ça ! (Don't Look at Me Like That!) and was billed as a light-hearted comedy with Sylvie Vartan playing the role of a famous actress who has attained a certain âge and become a recluse. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for her — she left France years ago and has lived in L.A. and Las Vegas ever since. (I think she dreamed of a successful American career in show business.) If you remember her, you probably remember that she was once married to the iconic French rock and roll singer called Johnny Hallyday. Here's a link to an interview Vartan gave to France 2 television a couple of years ago.
When I got to the Théâtre des Variétés, there weren't very many people waiting to get in. Not many minutes later, however, Mergault and Vartan (with one other actor) played to a full house. I was seated in the very first row, looking not down on the cast but up at them. I could have reached out and touched them as some points in the performance. I felt like I was on stage with them.
The play was good-natured, light-hearted, and lively, as promised. (The word "cute" comes to mind.) Vartan held her own in a rare acting role. Mergault writes and acts with a lot of humor, and her dialogue is full of puns and word play. She makes me laugh — I've listened to her on French radio for a couple of decades — and it's as much the fact that I'm happy to be able even to understand her puns as the actual humor in them that makes me chuckle (and groan). I'd never seen Sylvie Vartan in a live performance before and it was fun to get an idea what she is like in person. She's now 71 years old.
I took a photo of the theater (two photos up) as a kind of salle-selfie, by the way. I was seated at least 15 minutes before the curtain went up, and I didn't know if it was okay to take photos. Then I saw other members of the audience taking out their cameras and phones to snap pictures. Rather than stand up and turn around, I lifted my camera up over my head and snapped a few "blind" photos of the room behind me, hoping one of them would turn out. One did, as you see. In it, the main thing missing is the chandelier to the left, which is one of the theater's most distinctive features. Paris « Ville-Lumière », après tout.

12 comments:

  1. Beautiful theater and chandelier. I would have enjoyed seeing that too, but linguistically, I'm sure I wouldn't have caught all the jokes. Still, it's always worth seeing a legend while they're still out there performing.

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    1. I'm really glad I decided to go to see that matinee. It's a nice memory and it was a pleasant experience.

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  2. Ah, Chartier -- the crowded room of long tables, the noise, the really surly waiters, the cheap, cheap food. It looks like the long tables have been replaced with smaller ones. The waiters are described as efficient. It still looks realively cheap (€10) http://www.bouillon-chartier.com/en/

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    1. Back in 1997 I took my mother and my 15-year-old niece to dinner at Chartier. My niece was enthralled with our young waiter, who was smiling and charming. Our food was fine, with the exception of the ear of corn that my niece ordered. I warned her not to order it, but I didn't rate the way the young waiter did.

      A week later, my niece wanted to go back to dinner at Chartier. It was because of the young waiter. When we got there and got seated, we weren't in the young waiter's section. The niece was so disappointed. But at some point during the evening, the waiter noticed us, or her. He came over to the table, wished us Bon appétit, and... kissed my niece's hand in greeting. I thought she was going to faint.

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    2. I didn't know about Chartier until you took me there several years ago! Shame on me!

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    3. Tu ne fréquentais pas les quartiers populaires, c'est évident.

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    4. J'espère que vous me pardonnerez tous les deux, mais la réponse de Ken m'a fait sourire. Eh oui vous êtes deux bons amis.
      Speaking about Sylvie Vartan , I believed that she moved to the US on the recommendation of his brother and manager/song writer Eddie Vartan. At one point , before the arrival of Céline Dion in Las Vegas, she was the highest-paid female singer there. The only acting part I remembered of her was in the movie "Cherchez l'idole" with her brother, and a whole list of singers including Johnny Halliday.

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  3. When living in Paris, I don't remember ever going to Les Variétés in that district. I probably would have remembered that gorgeous chandelier. It must weigh a ton, if not more! I hope it is well anchored. I shudder at the thought of it falling on the poeple below!

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    1. According to Wikipédia, the Théâtre des Variétés was inaugurated in 1807! I wonder if that big light fixture was already there — with candles or gaslight. If so, it has endured more than two centuries without any casualties.

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  4. So cool, Ken! Love seeing the theatre!
    I remember going to Chartier, on your suggestion :)

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  5. Off topic, I know, but Celine Dion did a rousing performance of Edith Piaf's "Hymne a L'Amour" at the American Music Awards last night as a tribute to the Paris victims:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifyz98_eWd4

    Quite moving, it brought many in the audience to tears.

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