The Apollo of Bellac

The American Century and The Apollo of Bellac at UW
The American Century and The Apollo of Bellac at UW

After an incredibly long week of work, Anjie and I settled in at an unairconditioned theatre on the UW Campus to take in a rare treat – an afternoon of one-act plays.   We know one of the MFA grad students in the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington, and we  were there to see a production of a script that I first encountered back in graduate school.  The Apollo of Bellac, by Jean Giradoux, is a play about beauty.  It caught my attention back then because of the language.  Giradoux was a post-WWII French writer of fantasies, the most famous of which is The Madwoman of Chaillot.  The Apollo of Bellac concerns a young woman who enters a corporate office (the equivalent of a patent office–“What is your invention?”) looking for a job.  She is brushed off by the clerk, told to come back at a long-time future date, and is despondent about her chances.  But she meets an older man who tells her that the secret to dealing with men is to simply tell them they are handsome.   Though skeptical at first, the girl takes the advice to heart and wins the affection and admiration of every man in the office from the lowest clerks to the Chairman of the Board by simply announcing, “How handsome you are!”   By the end of the play, she is weary of lying and wants to meet a man who is truly handsome, so she can speak these powerful words with truth.  The old gentlemen who first advised then shows her that through the imagination, she can see that indeed, every man is handsome, that there is a kind of beauty in all people, and there is no need to lie at all.

The production at UW was interesting, the director deciding to support Giradoux’s direction that each man is almost instantly changed when they hear that a woman considers them handsome by having the actors break into dance as soon as they get the news.  So pretty soon, the entire corporate office of not terribly trained dancers are pirouetting rather ridiculously in and out, on top of tables, etc.  A clever metaphor, and one that works much of the time, the dancing eventually overwhelms the play, and becomes a bit too cumbersome.   That said, I didn’t really mind it, because the language of the play was delivered beautifully, and (you would have had to have been there), I loved the actor who did his rendition of a turtle.  These are fine actors, and I truly laughed more than I expected.

The first play of the afternoon was more successful overall, a broad, but biting comedy called The American Century, by Murphy Guyer.   I’d like to see this play again sometime.  A post WWII couple about to embark on a new life together, through some miracle of imagination, find their future, full-grown son under the kitchen table, and when he tells them how their future lives went–they end up with one of the more dysfunctional families to have ever emerged on the planet–the young GI runs for the hills, son in pursuit.   Funny, funny stuff.   When was the last time I laughed ’til I cried?

A couple of one-act plays on a Sunday afternoon, beautifully acted, if not a bit uneven.   What a treat…

I didn’t bother with the Tony’s…

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