La fureur de ce que je pense
A dazzling scrutiny of the writings of Nelly Arcan. With six exceptional actresses and a bewitching dancer, Marie Brassard probes the unfathomable power of woman.
With six exceptional actresses and a bewitching dancer, Marie Brassard orchestrates a dazzling scrutiny of the life and writings of Nelly Arcan. In an original restructuring of her novels Whore, Folle and Burqa of Skin, her ode probes the unfathomable power of the female. After the success of this extraordinary production first presented in 2013 at ESPACE GO, the FTA is subjecting the audience to a shock it will long remember. Turmoil that is indeed essential.
Displayed in rooms exposed to public view are women of subdued intellect, palpable hypersensitivity and idealized beauty. Like the gifted writer who died far too soon, they portray the unspeakable pain of being a woman, for indeed Nelly Arcan was imprisoned by an image of perfection, a writer tortured by her female gender, an intellectual contorted by incessant suffering. But as is apparent in this sophisticated piece by Marie Brassard, she was also a writer of the cosmos in search of light, of something larger than ourselves.
Produced by Infrarouge
Written by Nelly Arcan
Adapted and directed by Marie Brassard
Ideation and development Sophie Cadieux
Collaboration to the adaptation and dramaturgy Daniel Canty
Performed by Christine Beaulieu + Sophie Cadieux + Evelyne de la Chenelière + Larissa Corriveau + Johanne Haberlin + Julie Le Breton + Anne Thériault
Set design and props Antonin Sorel
Lighting design Mikko Hynninen
Music Alexander MacSween
Sound design Frédéric Auger
Costume design Catherine Chagnon
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques + Théâtre français du CNA (Ottawa) + PARCO (Tokyo)
Nelly Arcan + Marie Brassard (Montréal) Infrarouge
A regular at the FTA where she has presented several solo shows, Marie Brassard is an iconoclastic artist who invents one fascinating technological universe after another.
In Jimmy, créature de rêve (2001) and in Peepshow (2005), she amplified and altered the human voice to create dreamlike worlds and augment identities. In Moi qui me parle à moi-même dans le futur (2011) and L’invisible (2008), she presented auto-fiction that deconstructed her psyche and her memory in visually fantastical realms. She delves into dreams and the irrational, tracking down the abstractions and mysteries of the world. A tireless researcher and noted director, she is also an actress, an adventurer who embraces metamorphoses of all sorts.
In conjunction with her interdisciplinary stage work, over the years she has established an eclectic repertoire featuring pieces with shifting and overlapping time frames and multiple levels of storytelling. La fureur de ce que je pense, first presented to sold-out houses at ESPACE GO in 2013, pursues that layered writing of superimposed, embedded thoughts and narratives. This brilliant collage of works by Nelly Arcan also allows Marie Brassard to direct for the very first time a group of actresses on a large stage.
The shows produced by her company Infrarouge are often the fruit of scintillating dialogue with the composer Alexander MacSween, whose electronic music and atmospheres are an integral part of her stage vocabulary.
Nelly Arcan had a complex and violent rapport with her female identity. This is the first time that you have taken on such radical writing shaped by sorrow and pain. What was the appeal for you?
The world of Nelly Arcan is indeed miles away from mine. Her attitude toward beauty and the body was extremely tortuous and harrowing, yet I found her vision of the world quite touching, that sadness and inability to live in a woman who was so intelligent and so beautiful. This show can be seen as a gesture of a committed feminist, because Nelly spoke of a society that imprisoned women in stereotypes and demanded of them unattainable perfection.
I am particularly stimulated by the fact that her engagement and commitment to writing was total. In her largely autobiographical works I was often impressed by her extreme frankness, often hurtful for those in her immediate entourage. She symbolizes great freedom of expression, paradoxical for a young woman who suffered so much from an inability to communicate in the day to day. The harsh, pitiless gaze she cast on the world was also constantly directed at herself. She was completely vulnerable to the calculating gaze of outside eyes, perceiving only cruelty.
The media and cosmetics companies probably are largely responsible for that phenomenon of extreme self-criticism experienced by so many women, victims of an unhealthy capitalist system. In that sense the system damages or perverts the way so many women view or approach life, preventing them from being fully alive because the worth of their existence is determined in the same way that commodities are valued in the marketplace. Evaluated in terms of the clichés of beauty, subjected despite themselves to harsh judgments, many women are resigned to living lives of abnegation, sacrificing themselves in an excess of humility, victims of an invisible, insidious force.
By placing female bodies on display where they are exposed to the gaze of the public, you convey the idea of the female body blatantly treated as merchandise. What else does your staging convey?
It is possible, of course, to see a parallel with women on display in windows in the red light district of Amsterdam, or to see them like Barbie dolls that arrive in a box with a clear plastic window, evoking the same sort of display case. But for me they are also tragic dolls, bearers of an ancestral, noble beauty. I wanted to highlight that aspect, and I wanted it to be extremely beautiful and attractive. It’s a matter of placing that beauty in a showcase to also demonstrate that beauty is not negated or banned.
I wanted this show to be visually beautiful, for women to be radiant with the singular, fully assumed beauty of exceptional beings. I wanted beauty to generate emotion, not jealousy or envy as in the bar scenes in Nelly’s books, but the discreet, profound emotion one feels when faced with potent, striking beauty that inexplicably stirs our souls.
Each of the six actresses is isolated in her display case, each one reflecting a different aspect of Nelly Arcan’s writing. For the most part, however, you have avoided any psychology or psychoanalytical perspectives, even though they are present in the novels. Why?
The very complex relationship that Nelly Arcan had with her father, for example, is indeed explored psychologically to a certain extent in Putain and Folle. It is also one of the aspects of her work most often discussed in the media, along with issues of femininity, sexuality and beauty. In our collage, which includes fragments from Burqa of Skin and other texts, some of them unpublished, we were struck more by what Nancy Huston referred to as philosophy on display in Nelly Arcan’s work, her rigorous thinking. She presented theories on fertility, destiny and gender, and questioned society with an acuteness that was almost clairvoyant.
Her reflections on the cosmos, on existence and on religion are remarkable. She reminds me of Bernard-Marie Koltès, because she has a quick and obsessive mind. It is a flow of thought that I find quite musical, which is why we found a musical phrasing in direct relation to Alexander MacSween’s soundtrack. That musicality also helps create a poetic adaptation, helps shift that very sorrowful writing toward a mystical space, a place of transcendence.
“La fureur de ce que je pense is a mesmerizing piece that delivers rivers of Arcan’s seldom-punctuated poetic prose, as it explores the solitude and melancholy of her brief existence.”
Pat Donnelly, Montreal Gazette, 2013-04-19
« Un objet théâtral très élaboré et absolument captivant. »
Philippe Couture, Voir, 2013-04-18
« Impossible de ne pas sortir ébranlé de La fureur de ce que je pense… »
Lucie Renaud, Revue Jeu, 2013-04-15
« Les comédiennes sont toutes les unes meilleures que les autres. Honnêtement, il s’agit d’une des créations les plus marquantes de la saison. »
Jean Siag, La Presse, 2013-04-11