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French Theater  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

There was an explosion of literature dealing with homosexuality, most of it forgotten today except for the works of Proust and Gide. The number of gay and lesbian plays on the French stage during this period is astounding. Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray was adapted for the theater by no fewer than three playwrights, including Cocteau. Wilde's tragic life inspired Maurice Rostand, the flagrantly homosexual son of the author of Cyrano de Bergerac, to write Le Procès d'Oscar Wilde (i.e. The Trial of Oscar Wilde, 1935). Its success led Rostand to write another play on the homosexual writers Rimbaud and Verlaine, which was not as well received.

The most famous play of the times is by far Édouard Bourdet's La Prisonnière (i.e. The Captive, 1926; revived in 1935 and 1950), the story of a young lesbian who tries to escape her true nature by marrying. Although criticized by Rostand and others for the portrayal of the main character as too neurotic and tortured, most gay and lesbian spectators strongly related to this drama and found hope in the fact that at the end of the play the heroine leaves her husband to go back to the woman she loves.

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Not all portrayals of gays and lesbians were sensitive. Bourdet himself went on to write a biting satire on the fad of homosexuality in high society, La Fleur des pois (1932). Even after his death, de Max continued to be lampooned in Sardanapale (1926), as was his protégé Jean Cocteau in Les Grands-Parents terribles (1939).

The Closet, Schoolboy Love, Existentialism

Many French plays of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are reflections on self-hatred and on the impossibility of breaking out of the closet. In Roger Martin du Gard's Un Taciturne (1932), the main character commits suicide when he realizes his homosexual nature, the same resolution as in Paul Vandenberghe's prisoner of war drama Printemps perdus (1954). In Julien Green's Sud (1953), the hero's failure to communicate his true feelings leads him to seek death in a duel with the young man he loves.

In Quebec plays of the 1940s and 1950s, homosexuality is revealed as the root source of cynicism and evil in some characters, as in Jean Despréz's La Cathédrale (1949) and Yves Thériault's Le Marcheur (1950). A more open attitude emerges in Marcel Dubé's Freudian drama Au retour des oies blanches (1966), in which the character Robert's life is destroyed by a scandal that pushes him back in the closet, where he tries in vain to find the woman who will save him.

The most important work of the 1950s, the schoolboy drama La Ville dont le Prince est un enfant (1951) by Henry de Montherlant, was only produced years after publication in spite of numerous and repeated offers by dozens of France's best theaters. The potential for scandal, as well as the inclusion of easily recognizable autobiographical elements in the play, frightened the scrupulous and deeply closeted author, who refused production rights until 1967.

La Ville... is a poignant picture of a love triangle between two boys and a devoted but devious schoolmaster who fears that his favorite pupil will be corrupted. The play asks whether loving or renouncing love in the name of morality is the better course of action.

Another schoolboy drama is Marie-Claire Blais' L'Exécution (1968), an exploration of a murder committed at the behest of an amoral boy who convinces his lover to act as proof of his devotion. The existential view of homosexuality that pervades this work had already been illustrated in two earlier plays, Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos (1943) and Jean Genet's Haute Surveillance (1947). Both picture homosexuality as a choice implying a rejection of conventional morality.

Men and Dresses

It is sometimes difficult to decide whether plays that present effeminate homosexual men cater to stereotypes, even when they present original and sympathetic characters. In André Roussin's Les Oeufs de l'autruche (1948), a popular comedy about a father's difficulty in accepting the homosexuality of his 18-year-old dress-maker son, the audience unreservedly takes sides with the son.

In the same way, the tender humanity of Albin, the drag-queen character in Jean Poiret's La Cage aux folles (1973), easily pierces through his make-up to win the hearts of spectators.

Explorations of sexual identity and its relation to gender roles go deeper in Michel Tremblay's Hosanna (1973), which provides a glimpse into the life of a bitchy drag queen who is more manly than the leather biker she is hooked up with.

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