Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which won the Tony Award for regional theatre last year, has been offering up its brilliance in recent years, both in its home city of Minneapolis and on stages around the country. This month, it is presenting for its hometown audiences its own version of Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito’s classic nineteenth-century tragic opera, which is based on the tale of Faust, a man who trades his soul to the devil for superhuman powers.
Jeune Lune, the Tony Awards said, “strives to link a past heritage of popular performance traditions, from circus and classical farce to commedia dell’arte and vaudeville,” seeking “to create an entirely new kind of theatre that is immediate, high-spirited, passionately physical and visually spectacular.”
Dominique Serrand, a co-artistic director of the company and the director of Mefistofele, says that “our credo has always been to create a theatre that embraces the old and the new. The name of the company”—it means “Theatre of the New Moon” in French—“comes from a Bertolt Brecht poem: ‘The new moon holds for one night long the old moon in its arms.’”
The company was begun in France in 1978 and settled in Minneapolis in 1985, after splitting its seasons for seven years between the United States and France. A very important part of its work, Serrand says, involves the roots of the theatre, including Greek tragedy as well as comedy. “We’re called a physical theatre, a physical-comedy theatre,” he says, “but we do a lot of work that isn’t comedy but that’s tragedy: drama, operas, a lot of epic work, adaptations of novels.” Why did he choose Mefistofele? “I’ve done a lot of opera,” Serrand says. “I’ve done almost all the Mozarts, though I still have some of them to do. I took a break by doing Bizet’s Carmen. I was looking for a piece that spoke in an interesting way about the wars that we are currently living through—the wars of religion, or the wars against the fundamentalism of religion, against orthodoxy. I was fascinated by how America is becoming more and more religious, and at the same time is fighting a war against religious fundamentalism.”
It was, he says, a good time “to do a piece about good and bad—good and evil. That’s what the Faust story, and Mefistofele, is supposed to be about. It’s a very complex subject.”
His version of the opera, he says, will be “a contemporary interpretation. I’m very interested in the effect the media has on shaping our vision of how the world functions. I’m interested in seeing Faust as someone who is a victim of images, as someone who is consulting images and understands only through images.”
As Serrand has noted, Jeune Lune is often referred to as a very physical theatre—“but I also think that a lot of our work is philosophical and political. Our work has always been considered in many ways very political. I think that we have a very great awareness of the necessity for a company to be very politically present in the community—not by doing the work that politicians do, but by questioning what they do.”