Reviving the classic tale of cross-cultural illicit love in 1929s North Vietnam, Laurence Strangio’s long-awaited adaptation of this tale of transgressive love is immaculately rendered in The Lover, showing for only three nights as part of La Mama Theatre’s Explorations season.
Published in 1984, this autobiographical tale from one of literature’s greats, Marguerite Duras, is presented by a writer and director, Laurence Strangio, with a long history of being a fan. He has been crafting her literary works for the theatre since the 1990s and will revive L’Amante Anglaise in February 2017.
At a simple café table, with two chairs and two glasses of wine, Brenda Palmer and Annie Thorold play the older and younger Duras. They recount the tale of lust, desire, and undoing as a captivating duologue.
We are transported back to hot Vietnam and the boat trip our 15-year-old protagonist takes back to her boarding school in Saigon. Spellbound, we overhear the conversation as each moment of a young girls’ sexual and romantic awakening blooms at the hands of a 27-year-old wealthy Chinese businessman who crosses her path.
Against a timbered windowshade reminiscent of Indochine, their secret assignations go on for months in a small dark room. He drives her to her boarding house and drops her off in his limousine. Outwardly shocking, what sometimes causes greater offence is the expression by a woman of female desire, not always towards men. This writing is erotic and challenges the audience. Nothing is as it seems, aside from the bare facts.
The story is evocatively told and we feel the heat of the weather and the local landscape permeating the narrative. A white summer dress hanging bare on a black background, referencing her lost ‘purity’. Two summer seats sit as background props, redolent of the luxury life of the male, with a small child’s stool for the youth of the girl.
Surrounding characters — siblings, her unhappy mother, local drug dens, regional agriculture, poverty, and military change — encircle the lovers. The actors stun with their skill, deftly rendering the maturing of a woman. Lightness comes when the two women laugh at and through their experiences.
This is a play of decadent charm which haunts because such a beautiful voice comes to the woman from her experience. Knowledge is the price for eating forbidden fruit and she tells of the bittersweet taste of her own secret learning.
The text is infinitely simple and artful, and honours the original. This is the gift of the writer. See anything adapted by Strangio on Duras — her work lives on in productions offered as journeys in the self we can all learn from.
Overhearing private reflections causes unease, but are so beautifully told, you cannot help but linger — and learn.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Duras: The Lover runs 13-15 December 2016 at La Mama Theatre, 6.30pm (60 mins), Sat-Mon.
The venue is wheelchair accessible; booking required.