The Human Voice

by Axel H. Lenn


Grandmother Alexis once told me “life is a long distance run for various things, but you’re amazingly lucky if, in the end, you run into yourself”. I experienced this precise sort of sensation recently, when I almost never made it to a theatrical representation in the very heart of this agitated city. Indeed, theatres are one of the few remaining places where one gets a fair chance of facing past, present and future conscience arrhythmias in a hyperactive out-of-self-then-back-inside projection against the events portrayed on stage, that can ultimately be reduced to self-rebuttal. I believe we need such experiences occasionally in order to reset the level of consciousness that allows us to individualize our soul, to extract it from the amorphous, depersonalized egocentricity governing the masses today.
The play I went to see is called “The Human Voice” – “La Voix Humaine”, written by French artist Jean Cocteau, allegedly in a sentimental breakdown following a failed relationship. The special thing about this play is that, unlike anything written by the artist before or after, it remains so not-Cocteau as no critic could have imagined it. Highly sophisticated and sensitive by nature, never satisfied with himself or the people around, Cocteau was a perfectionist, a man trying to portray the impossible – this is how l’Epoque remembers him. In “The Human Voice”, the author is “turned-off” completely, there are no special clues, no pre-imposed nuances in acting the drama, no solution to be unveiled, just a simple text surrounding the personal torment of a woman abandoned by her lover. This is a common situation, or, as some might well put it, shituation, the kind most of us experience at least once in a lifetime: being caught in a state of powerful attachment to a person so that love is no longer a wonderful feeling, but an amazing self dissolution mechanism. As ancient poetry first described it, love beyond self; in Cocteau’s play, it is desperately unilateral, hanging on the telephone, indifferent to the autolytic consequences. It sounds fairly complicated. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to voice such a torment of the soul, so intensely human that literally suffocates the audience. Could this have been written for a male character? Communication, empathy, soul sharing and, most of all, love, find unparalleled expressiveness in female nature, with particular emphasis on voice.
Staged at Metropolis, under Sanda Manu’s direction, Cocteau’s play is voiced by renowned actress Oana Pellea in a brilliant, over the top performance that highlights an almost miraculous level of artistry. Tough job to play a nameless woman unveiling her life over an imaginary telephone dialogue or, better yet, pseudodialogue with a former lover who calls to make sure she is alright, unwilling to face her, fearing he would not handle a straightforward discussion. At first, you get the impression of an actual communication. The elegant lady tries to get through facing a call interruption by a third party, several times throughout the play, then shifts back to the previous tone of the discussion, intermingling a sigh of relief every one or two uttered words. Gradually, you realize there is no interpersonal communication whatsoever, but a self communication directed towards the audience. Monologue gaps initially stimulate your imagination to project the presumed response at the other end of the telephone; then, you understand these gaps are meant for the people in the audience – you are at the other end of the call. It is an experimental attraction getting you out of yourself, then back inside, then out again. Oana Pellea’s voice shifts among various feelings, exposing gradual deeper layers of the character’s soul. There’s desperation, childish lies, anguish, hope, clinging to memories, love, complete selflessness, sadness, hope, nervous laughter, desire, denial, fury, desperation again, greater hope, deeper sadness, distant recollection, confession, desperate acknowledgement of the truth, self betrayal, nonresilient acceptance of the situation, refusal to hang up and a final love confession – all these in a very soliciting endeavor of expressiveness I have never witnessed on stage before. Angel eyes, sad yet luminous eyes, tired lips struggling to utter a miracle and change destiny, grimaces every now and then, delicate hands turning the telephone wire up, and down, and around her body as a metaphor for entrapment. The character’s moves are set against a hermit-like décor that does not mirror anything, not a single emotion, allowing the audience to grade the interpretational force in a direct, authentic key. A dazzling experience!
Until you see the play on stage, you might think it is an act of courage to do a single character representation in front of an audience. Deadly wrong! Courage has nothing to do with it, actually! It might be courage that determines people to walk on stage, but such an endeavor does not grant success and artistry. I got the same feeling witnessing Oana Pellea’s interpretation in Cocteau’s “The Human Voice”: a single character play assesses not the birth, but the genius of an actor.
“The Human Voice” by Jean Cocteau, starring Oana Pellea. Direction: Sanda Manu. 55 min.
Metropolis Theatre, Bucharest, Romania

The Human Voice

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