World Stages: International Theater Festival ‘Savannah Bay’ at The Kennedy Center

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FIVE STARS 82x15 
The World Stages: International Theater Festival takes the center stage at The Kennedy Center, March 10-30, 2014 bringing together some of today’s most exciting theatrical visionaries presenting an unprecedented focus on theatre from around the globe.Twenty-two theatrical offerings from nineteen countries, and every continent except Antarctica, are represented in this theater Festival of dynamic stories examining contemporary issues and universal themes. Curated by Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming, thirteen fully staged productions will be featured including nine U.S. premieres, as well as four theater-focused installations, panel discussions, two staged readings, and two Directors forums.

The delights in this extraordinary assembling of theatrical treasures comprise World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014 – The Kennedy Center’s first theater-focused international festival!

Love, Loss, and Memory – Review: ‘Savannah Bay

Week two of The Kennedy Center’s 2014 World Stages: International Theatre Festival kicks-off in the Family Theatre with Théâtre de l’Atelier rewarding staging of the U.S. Premiere of Marguerite Duras 1982 play, Savannah Bay. 

Geneviève Mnich. Photo by Nathalie Hervieux.
Geneviève Mnich. Photo by Nathalie Hervieux.

Directed with authority by Didier Bezace, and starring French actors of stage and screen, Geneviève Mnich and Anne Consigny, Savannah Bay is a memory play exploring identity and the wisdom of seniority as a young woman seeks the desperate truth about her mother after a personal tragedy.

With her impressionistic language and trademark themes of memory, the nature of desire, loss and regret, the beauty of French writer and film director, Marguerite Duras’ experimental style is her command of dialogue.

Duras brilliance is the embrace of silence and giving breath to the importance of what is not said.

The poignant emotion of that void in Savannah Bay, fills with a love and recognition that is built between two women – one unknown woman and her aging grandmother on the edge of reality and … a blank slate. Poetic and evocative, the play begins in a mysterious room, time and place is irrelevant, as the sweeping sounds of crashing waves dissolve into fragments of Edith Piaf’s popular recording of “Les mots d’amour,” playing in the background singing of undying love, betrayal, forgetfulness.

The song is a metaphor for the familial, broken lives of these two women.

Although the characters are never specifically named, Geneviève Mnich steps into the role of an aging actress, taking the place of the previously announced Emmanuelle Riva who was prevented from traveling overseas due to medical recommendations.

Mnich triumphs in her flawless portrayal of a famous aging actress and once a gorgeous woman whose present day consciousness is slipping to the fugue state of her jumbled, disconnected memories. In the absence of memory, there is the mental spaciousness of solace and solitude.

Life and the theater are one.

Anne Cosigny (most recently seen on the Sundance Channel in The Returned “Les revenants,” the popular French supernatural min-series) graces the stage in a stunning and captivating turn as the young woman who seeks truth about her mother’s suicide. Attempting to win over her mentally fading grandmother, she resurrects a buried traumatic memory and they immerse themselves in a ritual that allows them to invent and reinvent details, affirming the strength and mutual love of their relationship.

There is a tender, playfulness between the two women. Between silence and stillness, uncertain memories and confabulation, is a dialogue between the two women.  The emotional connection runs deep.

Savannah Bay takes an autobiographical tone with the story within the story that is based on the early years of Duras life as a young girl. The bittersweet nostalgia shared by the women is told, retold, changed, and added to every day as the two role play and engages with one another – in order to recognize and love each other. The repetition and contradiction of events may or may not have occurred. One thing is certain: the white stone of the meeting of two lovers …

Didier Bezace, in a discussion after the play, said that there were two versions of Duras’ Savannah Bay that he combined “to help bring the complete Marguerite Duras and elements of humor to bring great tenderness.”

Duras simple rhythmic, repetitive language of the writing is mesmerizing and pleasing to the ear. As satisfying as the distinct visual experience is, Savannah Bay is a production where you want to make sure you listen and hear every word being said. As the play continues, the women address the audience with dialogue and the narrative – at times shared by both – as if performing for them.

Anne Cosigny. Photo by Nathalie Hervieux.
Anne Cosigny. Photo by Nathalie Hervieux.

The minimalist staging by Set Designer, Jean Haas, has created a concrete yet light and breezy feel with this cunningly constructed white box theatre setting. Capturing the elegiac nature of the script and bringing vivid aural imagery is the naturalistic sound design by Vincent Butori, and the striking silhouette beauty of the gradual “unseen” transition between night and day of Patrick Clitus’ lighting design.

Some memories are buried so deep that when it’s recalled, one can’t distinguish truth and reality from an imagined, invented dream.

The Savannah Bay audience takes in every melancholic moment of the still, quite, uncertainty on the stage, the deep meaning of the text, and the life and real life we will never really know.

In French with projected English titles. Recommended for mature audiences.

Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Savannah Bay plays March 19 – 22 at 7:30 pm in the Family Theater at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

The closest metro station is Foggy Bottom/George Washington University. There is a FREE Kennedy Center Shuttle that departs from the metro station every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m.-Midnight Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-Midnight Saturdays, and noon-Midnight Sundays.

LINKS:

Read Sydney-Chanele Dawkins’ other reviews here of shows in the World Stages: International Theater Festival:

The Suit. 
Rupert.
Tapioca Inn: Incendios.
Harmsaga.
Death & the Maiden (La Muerte y La Doncella). 
Savannah Bay.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]