Love is a many splendored thing or a four-letter word, depending on one’s current affairs of the heart. When it leaves, love is said to fade or die away, but in Pascal Rambert’s newest play, it goes out with the fire power of a .44 Magnum. A two-hander ostensibly about a couple’s painful dissolution, Clôture de l’Amour might have been molded from the best tradition of French romances (wherein lovers emote and there’s not much plot), except that Rambert is not particularly interested in “amour”, and even less in how it ends. Moreover, the duo in question self-inflicts a verbal attack so brutal it’s literally painful to watch. Rambert calls it “an all-out shooting match,” and his description may score a bull’s eye again in New York, when the play, produced under the title Love’s End, runs October 10-13 at the Abrons Arts Center as part of the Crossing the Line Festival. Starring Kate Moran (seen most recently in the revival of Einstein on the Beach at BAM) and Jim Fletcher (winner of a 2012 Obie for Sustained Excellence), this particular production has Rambert predicting it will be the play’s most merciless version yet.
That’s saying a lot, however, given that Clôture de l’Amour was the sleeper hit of the 2011 Festival d’Avignon, received the “Best New Play” award of the French Drama Critics’ Association last season, and spawned productions in 13 countries, from China to Russia and Brazil, practically overnight. The play’s appeal derives from both the unadulterated content of the dialogue, relating in stark terms the demise of a couple with children, and the KO punch of its delivery. Rambert conceives of the show as much as a work of dance as of theater; the challenge is to show the visual impact of each character’s reproaches, invective, and remorse in the body of the other. As the male character shoots off a searing list of grievances, the woman listens, every word seeming to hit her like a bullet, but she gives it right back to him, in turn, point by point.
Clôture de l’Amour comes as a somewhat surprising consecration of the three-decades long career of this 50-year-old playwright, known in France since 2006 as the director of the Théâtre de Gennevilliers, a national center for contemporary performance in a low-income suburb of Paris. In addition to a strong community presence skillfully cultivated by Rambert, that success is largely founded on his ambitious programming of international artists, including such players of New York’s alternative scene as Nature Theater of Oklahoma and Young Jean Lee (whose Untitled Feminist Play is currently running there).
Rambert is certainly no stranger to New York City theater, having taught and performed here intermittently over the last 12 years. His own vast oeuvre of experimental plays, created with his company Side One Posthume Théâtre, owes much to the work of the downtown artists who were making it to France, beginning with Robert Wilson, when Rambert was just starting out. And while he wrote Clôture de l’Amour with two French actors in mind, his casting choices for Love’s End came equally easily, having worked with Moran on numerous projects since the two met at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing in 2000, and having promised himself years ago to cast Fletcher one day, after seeing him perform with Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players, an experience he describes as particularly inspirational. Rambert’s personal ties to this casting do not stop there, however; he wrote an earlier play, entitled Le début de l’A, or The Beginning of L, about his love affair with Moran. Drawing for this show on her “icy” coolness and Fletcher’s “mineral” rootedness, Rambert says he hopes to have found a white-hot mix for this production.
Nevertheless, the writer-director of Love’s End stresses that the play is not in the least bit autobiographical, and explained that it even eschews the theme of love entirely. “I don’t write about subjects any more,” he told me before rehearsals got underway at the Abrons Art Center. “I provide them, but they’re only meant to serve as a framework that people can enter. Once I can get them there, I tell other stories. What I do create are traps.”
The trap in Love’s End is that love story of the title. “The play does not pit one lover against the other,” he explained. “That would be too easy. I’m trying rather to draw two trajectories that, at a certain point, find a form of freedom after an impossible suffering. That story is not the same as the story of a couple splitting up. I’m interested in telling a story about what this space is that we’re working in, what this writing is, what it means to create and what it means to be an artist.”
If that sounds like a lot of talk about love and art rolled into one, Rambert has a good grasp of the challenges his play might pose for American audiences. His biggest fear isn’t whether we’ll like it or not. No, he laughed, “Just don’t say that it’s ‘so French’!”