Melancholic, soaring, cosmic, disenchanted and lucid. Dark Was the Night, the show written and directed by Emmanuel Meirieu, is all of these things at the same time. Open on a curtain colored by a child’s drawing, it turns gray without warning. The veil disappears, revealing a post-apocalyptic setting. A dented median with tall, emaciated tree trunks: probably the edge of a highway or ring road. On the floor, rubbish, plastic bags, rusty cans. In the distance, the gleam of headlights; muted, city traffic. From below the embankment come the actors. Four men and a woman who have to play there, in this sinister dump, and to give birth to something that is not pure despair.
Emmanuel Meirieu sets the tone. Its creation aims for the stars but it has its feet on the ground. And that which is exhibited on the Gemini stage in Sceaux (Hauts-de-Seine) is sometimes not much better than the ditches conceded by the cities to those who no longer have a roof over their heads. With Dark Was the Night, the forty-something artist radicalizes a path of remarkable coherence. Noted in 2011 for his adaptation of the novel by Russell Banks, Beautiful tomorrows (Actes Sud, 1991), he has since established himself as a creator of emotional intensities that some equate (wrongly) with a taste for pathos.
It is true that he is not afraid of tears. Neither do his actors, who sometimes cry when they play. There is nothing obscene in that since they only speak of the human who doubts. Not the winner but the loser. Not the exemplary hero but the failure who sinned, lied, killed and whom society relegates to the corners. By turning the excluded, whoever they are, without ever judging them, into fictional characters, the director gives them back their voice. As well as a form of dignity.
From personal to political
Dark Was the Night is based on a true story. In 1977, in the United States, a probe set off to attack space. Taking off from Cape Canaveral, the vessel To travel carries a disc on which are engraved messages intended for possible extraterrestrials: photos and sounds of the Earth, song of a whale, greetings in 55 different languages and pieces of music, among which Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927), by Blind Willie Johnson. This African-American composer died in the street of pneumonia in 1945. He was black so was denied access to the hospital. Twenty-two years later, he becomes the intergalactic emissary of the Terrans. Emmanuel Meirieu evokes this irony in a dilated text that stretches its nets on both sides of an America of tottering grandeur.
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