April 1 & 2: Honors Dramaturgy Thesis of Isa St. Clair

Please join us for a staged reading of Isa St. Clair’s mlle., directed by Rebecca Wright with Eva Amesse ’11, Nell Ban-Jensen ’11, Jessie Cannizzaro ’12, Nolan Gear ’12, and Ben Hattem ’12.  April 1st and 2nd at 7PM in the Frear Ensemble Theatre.

This play is an adaptation of Theophile Gautier’s 1834 novel Mademoiselle de Maupin and tells a story of disguise, desire, and a very tangled love triangle. The play explores gender, sexuality, Shakespeare, Romanticism, and the farce we all make of ourselves.

When Theophile Gautier published the novel Mademoiselle du Maupin in 1834, Paris flew into uproar. Polite society swiftly condemned the lascivious novel in public and eagerly devoured it in private. For though it was the height of the Romantic movement in France, no one had yet produced such an admixture of hedonism, romance, ars gratia artis, and a revolutionary treatment of gender and sexuality as Gautier did in Mademoiselle du Maupin. Throughout the novel (and the play), the multivalent characters discover and rediscover their own gender identities and sexual preferences/performances, displacing sexual norms and (self-) constructed identities. As reader or audience, we are never quite sure if we are seeing masks or faces, if we can access an essential truth regarding these characters and their desires, or if that truth exists at all.

The nimbus of controversy surrounding the novel persisted for decades; Mademoiselle du Maupin was the subject of an American lawsuit over its alleged obscenity as late as 1922. But its fame – or infamy – has waned in the intervening years, and Gautier is, in fact, little remembered outside of France. Indeed, the material that made the novel so shocking and forward-looking upon publication is no longer particularly progressive and actually somewhat problematic; Gautier was a revolutionary 1834, but is a little outmoded in 2011. If controversy stems from the piece today, it is because of the novel’s outdated attitudes regarding “acceptable sexuality,” its implicit reinforcement of the gender binary, and its inherent anxiety regarding issues and identities that have since gained more acceptance (though imperfectly) in today’s world. In this play, I have tried to access these issues through the Romantic vocabulary (linguistically and ideologically) in which they were written; the result for mlle. is a play in which the line between between performance and reality, masks and faces, then and now, is hopefully even more tenuous than it was in 1834.  –Isa St. Clair ’11 (April 2011)

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