“It’s also okay to not understand anything,” offers the fabulously deadpan master of ceremonies Ida Vincent. “Thank Christ,” I think to myself, “It’s not my French this time. It’s theirs.” Borrowing from vaudeville clowning, and futurist swiftness, L’Opéra Panique attacks social and existential question with a banana peel, and pie in the face style slapstick.
Anyone familiar with New York’s Neo Futurists will have an idea of the nature of the performance, albeit with a less “let the cards land where the may” structure. Loosely connected images and vignettes are strung across the evening’s performance and executed with the ever necessary “in for a penny in for a pound” commitment from the performers. The MC performs in a manner that presents control. She is never shocked by the action on stage; she’s simply watching an assembly of dramatic curiosities. She makes for an excellent counterbalance to the go for broke performers who, without her framing, would come off too strong.
Thankfully, as is, she is there and the performers are excellent. Aline Barré, Tullio Cipriano, Cécile Feuillet, Johann Proust, and Anaïs Castéran display a breadth of skills, including singing, musical instruments, and stage shaking pratfalls. The dramas on stage usually keep their safe distance with either an elusive framework or a “yuck yuck” showmanship from the performers. Admittedly they sometime veer into the heavy-handed. Obvious allusions to abuse and militaristic authority come off almost as homage to the subtlety averse political theatre of the early 20th century. This will be for some a feature and not a bug of the work. The piece, written in 2001, is a work recalling playwright Alejandro Jodorowsky’s time founding the “Panic Movement” in 1960s Paris. Put into its proper historical framework, L’Opéra Panique is a revitalization of a theatrical form. Without it, it still serves as a showcase of excellent clowning.