An American at La Comédie Française

  • 04, Dec 2014
  • Parisian theatre
  • Marissa Kristy

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20 Euro tickets to see Molière’s Tartuffe? And at La Comédie Française? I couldn’t believe my luck. How wonderful to be in Paris, to be a student, and to have all these fantastic opportunities. And for a theatre geek like me, La Comédie Française was the crème de la crème of opportunities. I didn’t know too much about the theatre before we went, so I dressed myself in a nice pair of pants and some heeled boots, thinking they would suffice. By chance, I decided to ask Google to get an idea of what other people might be wearing.

The site’s instructions: Dress to kill.

With 10 minutes left to get ready I ran down the hall and banged on my friend’s door. “Dress to kill, dress to kill!”  The room became a veritable hurricane, a sand storm of gowns, blazers and stilettos. 
 

After a frenzied metro ride to the theatre, we arrived to find that, apparently, not everyone was dressed to kill. Feeling slightly overdressed and more than slightly out of place, we proceeded to the highest balcony and found our partial-view seats, but nothing could ruin the excitement of finally being in a legendary French theatrical venue, where everything was elegance and gilded red velvet. 

The lights dimmed, the anticipation heightened, the curtain rose, we all leaned forward, and the actress spoke the opening lines of the play. 

Gibberish.

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I looked at my friend, who shrugged. She had understood as much as I had, that is to say, nothing. Rien. The play continued, and it became clear that the actors were speaking in verse, but I just couldn’t seem to get a word. Here and there I picked out un seul mot, but for the most part, I didn’t have a clue what they were saying. Now, I’ll be the first to admit my French is far from perfect, but during the last month in Paris, I thought I’d picked up enough to be able to get the gist of it. 

Apparently not. 

Wishing for some English subtitles, I sat back in my plush velvet paradise. Many things unfolded on the stage in front of me, the man of the house slept with the maid, an enemy pretended to be a friend, and the ensemble made an appearance in enormous paper mâché masks. 

Confused but placated by the production quality, I left the legendary Comédie Française with a strengthened resolve to improve my French.

It was a bit of a reality check. That’s right little girl, no matter how much you think you’ve learned, you still don’t know much French. But I wasn’t disheartened, and I knew I would be back to give the historic venue another shot.
 


Dressed nicely, but not to kill, I took my seat in the first balcony of La Comédie Française, grateful to be seeing a comedy: La chapeau de paille d’italie. ‘Hopefully it’s better this time,’ I thought. ‘I don’t think I could stand another 3 hours of non-comprehension.’

 As the curtain rose and the first few lines of the play were spoken, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I understood. I actually understood.