Theatre in Paris: La Comédie Française
Tue 19 Apr 2011
Like most locals in any great city, I have an entire list of things in Paris that I’d love to see or do that I’ve just never gotten around to seeing or doing. The Garnier opera house, for example. I love Chagall, who painted a famous fresco on the ceiling, and I’m in the area regularly, so I should have visited decades ago. But I haven’t. Another temptation has been La Comédie Française, one of the best venues for theatre in Paris.
In 1680, shortly after the death of the comic playwright Molière, his theater troupe became La Comédie Française by the royal decree of Louis XIV. At the time, the company performed at Odéon, across the street from what was then, and remains today, Le Procope café. Its “new” address, near the Palais Royal, has been home since 1799. For the past three-plus centuries, La Comédie Française has provided a stage to every great French actor, from Sarah Bernhardt to Isabelle Adjani, at some point in her career.
It’s easy to understand why I have been hesitant to attend a performance here. First of all, it took some time before I felt up to the linguistic challenge. Then there are the cultural differences, which leave me laughing uproariously loud in the cinema as the locals around me sit in quiet amusement.
Finally I was ready for the challenge. But first I had to purchase my tickets. They are available online, but I couldn’t seem to get the dates I needed, so I dropped in yesterday after a meeting in the area. The hallowed halls are regal with red velvet trimmings, stone columns and extravagant chandeliers. A statue of Molière greets theatregoers as they arrive, and I could almost imagine the vibrant buzz of expectations on performance night. The ticket area is plush and luxurious, with a helpful and knowledgeable staff. I was out the door, in possession of two tickets for Un Fil à la patte, by turn-of-the-last-century comic playwright Georges Feydeau.
I heard this declared “the” play of the season, and there was not an empty seat in the house as the curtain rose. I was immediately entranced by a physical humor that is easy to understand in any language. Actor Christian Hecq out Chaplined Charlie Chaplin, leaving the entire room, including some of the actors on stage, laughing hysterically. This show—and probably any theatrical piece by Feydeau—would be perfect for a high-school student just learning French, who may be amazed to see, as the play unfolds, theater become the perfect classroom.
La Comédie Française
Editor’s note: When in Paris, try one of the Girls’ Guide to Paris unique walking trips.