The Performant: Enter the Platypus

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French “Art” and Fringe wins at the EXIT Theatre

Of all the theatre companies in the Bay Area currently operating, the most specifically focused may well be our premiere (or rather only) amateur Francophone company Le Theatre Platypus. Though the Goethe-Institut sometimes hosts touring productions, such as Bridge Marklund’s “Faust in the Box” which will play in the Institut auditorium March 3 and The Mission Cultural Center hosts occasional Spanish-language plays such as Dolores Prida’s “Coser y Cantar” (playing March 17-19), dedicated multi-lingual local troupes are unfortunately scarce. This makes going to see a Platypus play more than just a night out, but a bona-fide cultural immersion experience.

Thursday night at The EXIT Theatre Mainstage is not usually where you’d expect to find a sold-out house, but Platypus pulled it off with their French language presentation of Yasmina Reza’s “Art” a satirical look at the world of art commerce as well as an exploration of the relationship between three friends whose differing feelings about an art piece underscores the divide in their characters.

There are many things about watching the play in French that are just the same as watching it in English—or any other translation. The appearance-driven shallowness of Serge (Michel Tassetto) is no less shallow in French than in English, and the zealous arguments against “the modern” of his acerbic buddy Marc (Arnaud Merceron) are no less self-righteous. The insecure hypochondriac Yvan (Thomas Marigne), who wobbles between trying to placate the feelings of both and obsessing over his pending marriage, is no less a schlub en Francais, and the piece of art in question—a $40,000 canvas painted all in white—is no less an eyesore.

The difference definitely lay in the crowd, half of whom appeared to be bona-fide expats, half of whom appeared to be French American International School scholars out for extra credit, and all of whom most certainly appeared to be having a great time. It surprises me that there aren’t more dedicated non-English Language theatre companies in the Bay Area, considering our diverse population, and while the Bay Area is a breeding ground for new translations, it’s interesting to consider what sort of impact these same companies might have mounting a non-translated work.

Because it’s never too early to start obsessing over the San Francisco Fringe Festival, which will be celebrating it’s 20th year in September, a hard-core crew gathered at the EXIT café on Saturday to witness the annual lottery -- the process by which all entrants are chosen. This year 25 out-of-town companies, 10 of whom were alternates, and 35 locals, ditto, were drawn out of the “hat” by Christian “Nothing-up-my-sleeves” Cagigal and Michelle Talgarow. The San Francisco Fringe, as well as all Fringe Festivals part of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals are 100% non-curated, which means literally anything goes. Working titles of this year’s chosen productions include “Hamlet vs. Zombies,” by The Skinny Improv, “Hitler’s L’il Abomination,” by Annette Roman, and “I Love You, We’re F*#ked,” by Kevin J. Thornton, worthy Fringe titles all. The only question now—how do I wait six more months to see them?

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