Review: Discordant Lovers Come Together for a Last Night in "La Musica Deuxième"

La Musica Deuxième

Written by Marguerite Duras

Translated by Barbara Bray

Directed by Helen Banner

Presented by A/Park Productions at Torn Page

435 W 22nd St., 2nd Fl., Manhattan, NYC

May 16-26, 2024

Jessica Frey and Gopal Divan. Photo by Diego Quintanar
Music can be a trigger for memory, and the two share an essentially subjective and changeable quality. Two people may hear the same music differently, or the same person may hear different things in the same piece of music on a subsequent listen. The same sort of divergences characterize remembrance, as evident in the marital postmortem conducted by the couple in A/Park Productions' fantastic new staging of La Musica Deuxième by Marguerite Duras (1914-1996), a multidisciplinary French writer and filmmaker who was born in what is now Vietnam and settled permanently in France in 1933 after several prior moves between the two nations. Providing us with even more multiple and refracting versions of the relationship in Duras's play, A/Park's production is one part of Double Duras, a mini-celebration of La Musica Deuxième presented in conjunction a separate production from Blessed Unrest that is directed by Jessica Burr and runs from May 2nd-18th at The Drawing Room. Also part of Double Duras is a showing of Duras's rarely screened film version of the play La Musica, which she directed with Paul Séban in 1967, on May 25th at Torn Page.
Gopal Divan. Photo by Diego Quintanar
The 1985 La Musica Deuxième, as its title suggests (among other connotations), is a second, expanded version of 1965's La Musica, originally written as a radio play for the BBC. The erstwhile couple of La Musica Deuxième are Michel (Gopal Divan) and Anne-Marie (Jessica Frey), who meet at a hotel, after a long period of separation, to finalize their divorce. On this last night, at this last meeting, what happens to the leftover furniture will become one of the less important questions. The pair are irresistibly drawn into dissecting the waning of their love–was it the settling down? The infidelities? Were there infidelities?–and interrogating their desire, what nourished and starved it, including in its manifestations as possessiveness and even homicidal rage. For awhile, with the exception of a fleeting (yet still startling) physical outburst, Michel and Anne-Marie's flagellating, philosophical tête-à-tête is conducted under a carapace of restraint, although passion and even violence are never far beneath the surface. This is true right up until that reserve finally cracks–cracking open, in a very real sense, the play itself as well.
Gopal Divan and Jessica FreyPhoto by Diego Quintanar
Particularly in the first half of the play, Michel and Anne-Marie repeatedly start and stop music on the turntable at one side of the room, but before we meet them, the performance begins with a singer (Erin Reppenhagen) relaxing with some wine before impressively filling the room with a song prominently featuring the word "remember me." (She has removed her shoes, and both Michel and Anne-Marie end the show shoeless as well, perhaps uniting them all in a common intimacy and vulnerability, a stripping away of protection). The production provides some immersive touches connected to the hotel setting, and the lighting design, by Alex deNevers, makes rich use of lush color as well as shadows and dimness. The extraordinary intimacy and character of Torn Page, more like a parlor than a theater space, allows the performances to be pitched very naturalistically, creating a feeling that we are voyeurs in a way reminiscent of Michel's account of an occasion on which he watched an unclothed Anne-Marie without her knowledge (and while she watched herself in a mirror). This sense of immediacy extends even to hearing the other side of phone calls (voiced by Iris Beaumier) to Michel in a way that feels completely real. Moments that feel more choreographed or theatrical, then, when they do occur, stand out and are intensified. The same is true of the shifts in the characters during the second half of the play, which are in some ways subtle but register as magnified, a credit to these actors. Through it all, Divan and Frey are magnificent, delivering the kind of performances that seem to charge the air. With this production of La Musica Deuxième, you may just find yourself mentally revisiting and replaying Michel and Anne-Marie's relationship not too differently from the way in which they themselves do.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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