… 18th-Century Post-Modern …
What a play! And what a marvelous way to get to know it!
Monday, September 27, Classic Stage presented a reading of Jacques and His Master, written by novelist Kundera as an adaptation of Denis Diderot’s 18th-century novel. Read by a cast that completely fulfilled the play, headed by two wonderful actors, Dan Oreskes as Jacques and F. Murray Abraham as Jacques’ Master, it was as vivid as any totally dramatized production — like radio drama, one sees it all!
It’s an on-the-road story — Jacques and his Master are traveling, and talking, the relationship between them makes you think of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza — although other narratives come bounding to mind including by Pirandello and Beckett. Jacques is a cheeky and forthright servant, and the story he tells to please his master of “how he fell in love,” and fell out of it — and whether in it or out of it of the consequences of love and its necessity — is constantly interrupted. As encounters arise bringing new stories, with these stories leading to yet others, characters transform themselves: the down-to-earth Hostess Innkeeper “becomes” the upper-crust French Mme de la Pommeraye when she tells Mme’s story — all with actress Roberta Maxwell’s delicious French accent. It’s enormously entertaining — and funny.
While breaking every rule in the book of a “well-made play,” Jacques and His Master never loses its engaging narrative flow. One cares continually — though why? and about what? That things matter so even though one isn’t sure of anything is part of the brilliance of the work. The abrupt and arresting segues into new scenes and characters with age-old and repetitive love plots must have fascinated Kundera. The ending moved me greatly. Jacques and His Master, written in 1971, is Kundera’s only play.
Classic Stage, on East 13th Street in NYC, will conclude this year’s “Books on Stage” reading series with Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie Monday, October 4. Previous readings have been based on Proust, Pirandello, Tolstoy and Brecht. Thanks to Classic Stage for this magnificent series of theatrical readings.