“The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol” is a play haunted by regrets, misfortune, and ghosts, both real and imagined. This Mainstage production, directed by Catherine “Calla” I. Videt ’08 and produced by Matt I. Bohrer ’10, maintains an otherworldly aspect throughout its time upon the stage. Running through April 14, the play is an impressionistic look at the life and death of the title character, a poor and often friendless woman living in the French countryside. The result is a fascinating—but occasionally impenetrable—mixture of dialogue, monologue, dance, and sound. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]
The titular three lives of Lucie (Carolyn W. Holding ’10) are her life with her family, her life after banishment to a lonely cottage, and her afterlife. Moving back and forth through time, the play depicts Lucie’s birth in 1900 and childhood, during which she is tormented by her brother Henri (Chris R. Schleicher ’09) for being small and supposedly bringing bad luck to the family because of a birthmark. She grows up lonely, living with her brothers Henri and Edmond (Claudio Sopranzetti) after her parents and oldest brother die.
Lucie is eventually thrown out of the house and lives out the rest of her life in a cottage, making money by smuggling goods during World War II-era rationing. Shortly before her death, she meets an old lover, Jean (William “Hugh” Malone ’08), who also narrates large portions of the play. After her death, Lucie haunts him in a series of events that eventually lead to his own demise.
Holding, while fantastic in the main role, seems a slightly strange choice from a physical point of view: Lucie’s tiny size is repeatedly referenced, while Holding is one of the tallest members of the cast. While this adds to the unreal and stylized aspects of the play, it also causes some confusion, as the audience constantly forgets about this until it is reminded of the character’s size again. That fact aside, her performance is riveting. She plays Lucie throughout her 67-year life with only a few personality changes to account for the transition between childhood and old age, making her seem as unmoored from time as the play is.
During Lucie’s life, Holding stomps around, delivering most of her lines in a low-pitched shout that fades to a growl, one which seems occasionally excessive until the play’s final scenes. When Lucie is dead, she moves gracefully. Her hair, previously bound in a bandana, is set free, and her voice is soft and happy. This contrast makes all the preceding acting choices understandable and adds to the play’s elegiac feel.
The rest of the cast is uniformly good. But with the exception of the excellent Malone, most of the actors end up portraying emotions in tableaux that are non-naturalistic to the point of being a little distancing. This aspect is largely a function of the nature of the play: its use of dance and poetic monologues lends itself to a demonstrative form. For example, when Jean is nervous around Lucie, he repeatedly runs to the edge of the stage and back.
Videt also amplifies the more abstract aspects of the play, often to great effect. For instance, people around Lucie often repeat a few gestures mechanistically, leaving the main characters as the only ones who really move and see. On the other hand, this directorial choice can also result in a lack of clarity: When Jean relates an anecdote about Lucie going fishing in a booming, portentous voice that—if read on the page—would seem much more lighthearted, it seems like the acting has more to do with creating a general mood and less to do with what is actually going on in the play.
Movement is more important to this play than to most, not only due to a number of dance interludes, which are dreamlike and performed mostly to words and not music. Often, even during the more realistic scenes, the actors move in a dance-like way, contrasting with Lucie’s stomping, heavy steps. After her death, there is an incredible, wordless scene that consists of Lucie and Jean moving into different poses as he dreams of her, interspersed with fades to black.
As is usually the case on the Mainstage, the technical elements of “Lucie Cabrol” are lovely. The lighting, designed by Joshua Randall, casts much of the play in a dimly-lit zone, with some nice effects (the red light spilling from a wood stove, for example) that occasionally verge into gimmickry (the coffin-shaped spotlight that Lucie lies in, for example).
Sound, co-designed by Videt and Nicholas J. Shearer ’09, also plays a highly noticeable role in the production. Instead of music, scenes frequently end with an almost underwater-sounding roar that builds up from a whisper and eventually overwhelms the voices. It adds a certain feeling of unreality and almost of dread to the play, and works well as a counterpoint to the action at its more surreal moments.
The set, which was created by Courtney E. Thompson ’09 and emphasizes the connections of the characters (most of whom are farmers) with the earth, is amazing. It consists of several rows of uprooted trees which hover behind the main part of the stage. Rows of dirt, which the characters use to imply burial, cross the stage. The overall effect manages to create both a sense of unreality and of day-to-day existence.
“The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol” is remarkable for its blending of the fantastic and the real, introducing stylized elements to tell a story of a woman’s mundane life and her rather less mundane afterlife. Ultimately, the play is ambitious and beautiful both visually and in its underlying ideas, but its surplus of style keeps it from a true emotional resonance.
—Reviewer Elisabeth J. Bloomberg can be reached at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: The April 9 arts review "Cryptic 'Cabrol' at Mainstage" incorrectly stated that Matt I. Bohrer '10 produced the Loeb Mainstage production "The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol." In fact, Bohrer was one of four members of the production team, and the executive producer was Mollie M. Kirk '08.