a concentrate of Py, for the worst and (especially) the best

Avignon, special correspondent

He could not do less, Olivier Py: no less than to offer, for his opening show as the new director of the Festival d’Avignon, a quintessence of his theater, his obsessions and his fantasies. So be it, with Orlando or impatience, the premiere of which went off without a hitch, Saturday July 5, at the FabricA, the new venue of the Festival.

Before the performance itself, the entire technical and artistic team of the show climbed onto the set while, in voiceover, the actors said a text that carried high art like “Civilizing institution”, and its need for “Bring light into the minds of the people”. This was of course the famous speech (“Du peril de l’ignorance”) delivered by Victor Hugo to the National Assembly on November 10, 1848, and it was a rich idea to have this founding text heard again, which is the origin of the whole edifice of French public culture, at a time when this edifice seems weakened on all sides.

Then, up to the comedy, because it is one that this Orlando, or at least a joyous and macabre farce as Olivier Py likes them. Joy, grace, death, desire, God, theater and handsome boys play the main roles, as they should in this partly autobiographical play where Py concentrates – and recycles – all his leitmotifs.

Where it is question, therefore, of a young hero named Orlando (in reference in particular to the character of Virginia Woolf, incarnation par excellence of the powers offered by the art of living all human potentialities), whose way of the cross consists of find out who his father is. Old story, in our theater. From station to station, launched on successive true-false tracks by his mother, an extremely theatrical actress, he crosses the road of a cursed poet and exalted or cynical directors (or both at the same time), emblematic of a certain French decentralization …

Olivier Py no doubt also makes fun of himself, in this play where he put a little of himself in all the characters, whether it is the impatient and hampered youth of Orlando and his friends, or even – yes – of his character as minister of masochistic culture. The comedy of power, in which one mask only hides another, is one of the play’s most successful dimensions. All the more so since one cannot help but think that Py evokes, in a roundabout way, a good part of his adventures with Frédéric Mitterrand, during the episode, in 2012, of his ousting from the Théâtre de l ‘Odéon and his appointment as head of the Festival d’Avignon.

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