CAMILLE AT BARD

I just had the pleasure of seeing the naked and new production of Camille, directed by Kate Whoriskey, sets by Walter Spangler, choreography by Warren Adams, costumes by Ilona Somogyl. What’s not to love about synchronized dancing men and women in turn of the century tuxedos and courtesan’s dresses? The acting, set, staging and direction was hip, fun, and sexy. The performances of Michael Tisdale as Armand, and Katrina Lenk as Marguerite were excellent. Tony Torn was wonderfully over the top as Gaston. The play opens with all of the actors undressed and lying down on the stage. The set included a screen of torn stockings or spots on the lungs stretching vertically over the play with dangling filled sacks full of the actor’s costumes, referencing balls or lungs. The ladies’ corsets were tied as their gasping for breath was synchronized. The stunning choreography was well integrated into the gleeful first half, showing the 19th century party world, the demi-monde in Europe where various classes could socialize and hook up mistresses with wealthy men. Here is a description of the story from the program: "…..Dumas’s tragic story, showing the struggles of Marguérite Gautier, a courtesan so successful that she can afford anything except falling in love. Selling herself to the Parisian elite, Marguérite acquires the desirable accoutrements of wealth and status: luxury possessions, elegant clothes, a cultivated sense of literature and music, and enormous social success. Her dress and demeanor exude virginal elegance; her trademark camellia is pure and inviolable. But all this is façade, and two forces beyond her control – true love and consumption – eventually defeat her. The "real" Camille was a Parisian courtesan named Marie Duplessis (1824-47), a lover of both Dumas and Franz Liszt, who himself is the subject of this year's Bard SummerScape and Bard Music Festival. Much of what is known about Duplessis is mixed in with the later fictions, including the autobiographical Dumas novel. In Dumas, the unsophisticated "Armand Duval" meets the courtesan "Marguérite Gautier" and falls in love. She has been the lover of countless men more exotic than Armand, but he wins her nevertheless. She resolves to leave her demi-monde life; they move to the country; Armand learns that Marguérite is selling her possessions to pay for her medicines and their keep. Armand's father does not support this union and asks Marguérite to leave his son for the sake of his family's reputation and his daughter, whose engagement is jeopardized by the scandalous affair. Marguérite leaves Armand and the relationship is destroyed, along with what remains of Marguerite’s health. Marguérite dies alone, penniless, in a garret." In the tragic second half, the dancing is overwrought in adolescent versions of hell and fell flat emotionally for me. I was angered by the second half, missing out on a pleasurable absolution of tears experienced by some audience members. I couldn’t believe Marguerite, a woman of independent means would fold to the authority of Armand’s father who bent down to the authority of society. The staging is so up to date and vital. Why not update the plot? But that would be another play.