The Exchange by Paul Claudel
Play in three act
Length 2 hours
Stage director : Ulysse Di Gregorio
Assistant director : Marinelly Vaslon
Set design : Benjamin Gabrié
A young couple, Louis Laine, an American in whose veins runs Indian blood and his wife, Marthe, a French peasant girl that Louis has abducted during his stay in Europe, meets on the American side of the ocean, another couple, Thomas Pollock Nageoire and Lechy Elbermon. He is a businessman and she, an actress with a very pronouced ‘vamp’ side.
No sooner has he met Marthe, that Thomas as a man used to appreciating the value of things and people, recognises the qualities of Louis Laine’s wife: fidelity, depth, bravery. He therefore puts a proposition to her: an exchange – that she abandons Louis, ‘he is not worth a cent’ and that she comes to live with him. Thomas, having been spurned by Marthe, hopes that the offer of dollars will turn Louis Laine into ally to realise his aim. Louis is seduced by the money and also by Lechy.
Despite Marthe’s exhortation, Louis seems ready to follow Lechy however, some instants later, she herself comes back to see Marthe, now on her own to annouce to her that,tempted by ‘escape’, Louis wants to abandon her too and go away on his own, thanks to Thomas’ money. She warns that she will have Louis murdered if he goes ahead with his plan. Marthe’s efforts in convincing her husband to stay, are in vain.
Therefore, when Thomas comes to sit by her, Marthe hears gunfire and guesses who is the victim. She tells Thomas that, in her destructive fashion, Lechy is thinking of setting fire to his bungalow, where he keeps his fortune but Thomas experiencing deep feelings of peace by her side will not run to save his money. His house burning, he watches calmly the spectacle of his downfall. They then see Louis’ corpse attached to a galloping horse. Thomas catches the animal, detaches the corpse and carries it with Marthe to her house.
‘Echange’ narrates the story of four people, prisoners in a vast landscape which closes around them like a vice. Asphixiated by and held in that prison, they each, in turn, create their own ills by responding to their intense and contradictory desires during the short period from dawn to dusk.
The inter-dependancy that they create renders them inseperable until death. They are united and reunited in concert of souls jostled by their ideals to eventually form a single one; violent, silent ad stripped.
To direct The Exchange – Paul Claudel is to choose to dig into the depth of human souls in order to find the various characters which reflect human nature. The strength of this play lays in its ambiguity as well as in the question of desire it poses. The conflict with each character is more spiritual than moral. Louis Laine must choose between Marthe representing duty and Lechy representing liberty. However, Louis’ soul is split.
He wants a gentle Marthe who will keep alive the flame of her love and the firey Lechy who can teach him ‘another song’. It is, from this spiritual lever, that it becomes fascinating to explore the torments that these characters go through, treated not as icons but as real men and women, subject to doubt and to the question raised by their destiny. My aim is to study the work of Claudel and attempt to render tangible the poet’s voice as concretely and viscerally as possible and yet, honour his poetry, trying to convey a lyricism with which the actors must be imbued.