an interview with Barbara Vann after a performance of The Crazy Lady of Chaillot

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hoto: John Quilty

Theodore Weaver Interviews Barbara Vann
Date of Interview: Friday night before Easter weekend, 2014

This is an interview with Barbara Vann after a performance of The Crazy Lady of Chaillot at
about 11:30 pm in the lobby at the Medicine Cabinet Theatre. The recording began moments
after the interview.

Cast member leaving the theater: Bon soir.

Barbara Vann: So long. … I think that a lot of the French plays that were translated in the
50’s, that were written in France in the 40’s and the 50’s, they were sanitized for the American
audience. For instance, we did Sartre’s Nekrassov; and there is a refrain, Sartre was known for
his lower class, you know, dirty language; and there is a refrain that goes all the way through
the play which is quite funny, where they go, “Oh, ces salauds, salauds, salauds.” Which is you
know “the bastards, the bastards, the bastards.” And it was totally taken out. And it is, you
know, it’s funny, but the concentration camp, guy. I mean that was the whole point of the play,
was all these terribly nice chateau people were the ones who, you know, who nicely waved their
Jewish friends good-bye when they went off to the concentration camp. The French were not
always that lovely about, or; they were not always fiercesomely defensive of defending…

Theodore Weaver: The royalists collaborated.

B.V. Well… yes…

T.W. And were anti-Semitic.

B.V. Yea.

T.W. So what was Giraudoux? That was my first question about the play. What was
Giraudoux’s political standpoint towards the French?

B.V. I don’t know that much about him. I know that there is a story that went around that he
was poisoned by the Gestapo. But you know, whether that is true or not, nobody knows. And he
certainly has lots of little anti-Nazi pokes in this like, “You have to beat these bandits from the
left. You have to swing around them from the left or I’m going to go and put on my red coat.”
And the reason this wasn’t produced until after his death, and after the war, was that he wanted
Jouvet to produce it; and Jouvet was in Argentina. I don’t know if that was because he was
Jewish or just getting the hell out of there which a lot of people did, obviously. Even Picasso, I
mean he went into the south.

T.W. So your translation, you said, compared to other translations…was fairly technical in the
sense that it tried to get the whole 3 ½ hours in.

B.V. It tries to translate every word and it tries to get the feeling of the music of the piece in it,
because the piece is very musical in French and we try to get some of that into the English.

Cast member leaving for the night: Bon soir.

B.V. Bon soir.

T.W. Now when you say that it is musical, what do you mean by that exactly? Is it the rhythm?

B.V. Yes, the rhythm. Well it is sort of Molière-like. I mean in a way … I did when I was in
college, “On ne peut condescendre de … l’académie … une entreprise noble … dont je reviens
de ça … pleine de gloire … sera goutée.” And the French they talk up, and “de la reine.” And
the language is much more musical than English which everybody says is very monotone and
boring.

T.W. So, um … What was? You were talking about Nekrassov. I know that Nekrassov starts
off with a suicide. It’s like George and les deux clochards. George jumps off the bridge and
into the Seine and one of the clochards pulls him out. This play has similar types of … there is a
suicide in this one. Is it Sartre first or is Giraudoux first? Was Sartre writing Nekrassov…

B.V. I don’t remember. I don’t remember the dates of Nekrassov. I don’t know. (Laughs.) I
mean I never made the connection and I was one of the ones who jumped off the bridge when I
did it.

Cast member: Bon soir.

B.V. Bon soir.

Cast member: A lundi.

B.V. Lundi. She laughs.

Cast member: Happy Easter.

B.V. Ah yes, Easter.

T.W. I was asking, how different is each presentation from night to night?

B.V. There is lots of room for, um well, some people like to get locked into something and stay
with it and other people like to try new things all the time and I try to work with a company
that isn’t going to fall over into a faint if something new happens. Because I think in a way the
point of theater, well not the point, but a point of theater, is to give the people in the audience
the courage to be free. And if it doesn’t look like you are free on stage then you know, come on,
how are you going to be free in life? And, I don’t like shows, you know my father was in the
hospital and there was a man there who said he did not go to Broadway because he did not like
to watch people doing what other people told them to do. And, I also like to watch something
that has in it an air of spontaneity and at least the possibility of something happening that didn’t
happen last night, or people, who can … It’s hard! You know, and it calls for, I hate to say it. It
calls for…

B.V. to a cast member who came back in: Is it Monday already?

Cast member: My water bottle. I’m glad it was here.

Richard Keyser, the Lighting and Sound Designer, who was sitting nearby with his laptop at a
table, said when Nekrassov died. (Inaudible on the recording.)

B.V. Not the real Nekrassov! The play by Sartre. (Laughs.) I didn’t even know there was a real

Nekrassov. (Laughs.)

R.K.: poet, writer, critic and publisher…

B.V. I think you have to know what the play is about so that you are not going to do anything
that destroys it. But this is on the edge of surrealism and also theater of cruelty and all that stuff,
that was, and the beginning of deconstructionism, where you are questioning the art as you are
doing it somehow. So, it has to have a sort of playful quality to it. Or else it is… you know,
somebody said that they had seen a couple of productions of it and this was the only one that was
alive.

T.W. Well I think it was very substantial. Maybe I will have a chance to see it again so that I
can really understand it. I really appreciate it, being able to talk about it with you.

B.V. Thank you.

T.W. Have a good evening.

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