Batman Contre Robespierre, now in performance at the Théâtre du Train Bleu, is a sprinting Kafkaesque vaudeville. Its four actors, Farid Amrani, Sebastien Delpy, Sylvain Tempier, and Aline Vaudan present a variation on the Book of Job in which Jean-Claude Barbès watches his happy life disappear bit by bit. Writer-director Alexandre Markoff’s improv-blackbox style is a form that many New Yorkers are familiar to. While this spark of immediate creation is found in the actor’s playful performances, Markoff has laced the piece with disarmingly deep-found purpose. While the results are at times uneven, the piece is performed with enough panache and with such machine-gun fire speed that there's always something new around the corner.
This Book of Job variation gives us nobody to blame. There is no clear societal goal to the destruction of Jean-Claude’s life, nor do we have a heavenly perspective in which to ground the piece. Jean-Claude’s life is simply destroyed, abruptly, and with stylish panache by the three other performers on the stage. He turns to the bank, a surreal authority, and friends to get his bearings. Though, these attempts are ultimately fruitless. The piece takes a particularly dark turn when Jean-Claude, now homeless, is nearly raped by another beggar. Batman rescues him, though he too then starts to chase him. Thankfully this rape isn’t used for humorous purposes, we have fallen into a nightmare. However, given the piece’s brevity, jury is still out on whether it is an earned conflict. Also, in such a bare space it’s hard to create a full reversal of the vaudeville mood so well established over the past forty minutes.
The ensemble spins and weaves together on stage with exuberant play, rather than mercurial effortlessness. Farid Amrani tends towards the straight man with his “are you crazy” reactions to the maddening Jean-Claude. In the other corner Sebastien Delpy makes home in the whimsical fantastical characters of Markoff’s world. Playing the Job figure, Sylvain Tempier forcefully navigates the seemingly impossible task of raising the stakes past the vaudevillian to the existential. Lastly, Aline Vaudan delights with sharp caricatures of daily figures. Batman Contre Robespierre is surprisingly insightful look on sympathy and an excellent vehicle for these four actors to showcase their craft.
Batman Contre Robespierre is currently in performance at the Avignon Off at The Théâtre du Train Bleu at 19:10.