Théâtre la Seizième has an inspiring habit of presenting great theatre. Their first offering of the new season, Adieu Monsieur Haffmann, is no exception. It began life at Atelier Théâtre Actuel in Paris, has since toured Europe and arrives in Vancouver direct from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Set in Paris in 1942, it portrays the harsh realities of German-occupied France, when all Jews were identified by the yellow star they were forced to display prominently on their person at all times. Jeweler Joseph Haffmann would have passed for a Gentile otherwise – a fact that’s intrinsic to the plot.
Haffmann, nevertheless, lives in fear of his shop and any valuables he owns being confiscated, as well as the threat of being transported to a death camp with countless other Jews. His wife and children have already escaped to neutral Switzerland, while he continues to run his jewelry store with the help of one Gentile employee, Pierre Vigneau.
In such dire circumstances, it’s small wonder that he offers Vigneau a deal to take over the store while he hides in the basement.
But Vigneau has a deal to offer in exchange. Thus the compelling plot thickens. Its humour, charm and humanity, singed with intrigue and horror, engage the senses with such intensity that time flies with the speed of a Nazi salute. One such salute slices a chilling interruption of a particularly jocular sequence.
The five French-speaking actors who squeeze every nuance from the tightly written script include the playwright himself, Jean-Philippe Daguerre. There is not a moment when they allow a stray thought to distract from the action, even when one might struggle to follow the French dialogue succinctly translated to English in the surtitles.
The gamut of emotions they elicit varies from delight to despair and from fond hope to fearful apprehension.
They are supported by an expert team of set, costume, lighting and soundscape designers and operators, coordinated by Laurence Pollet-Villard. The production is faultless.
In these troubled times when avarice, jingoism, racial and religious intolerance and nationalism divide so many, Adieu Monsieur Haffmann is a poignant reminder of where such negative concepts can lead, and how they can be overcome.
At the show’s conclusion, the audience was asked to rate the production using coloured tickets that read: Je l’ai adoré (I loved it), Je l’ai aimé (I liked it), Bof (so-so) and Je n’ai pas l’aimé (I didn’t like it). Everyone’s vote was for je l’ai adoré, including that of this reviewer.
The short-run for Adieu Monsieur Haffmann means it is almost sold out immediately after it opens. Unfortunately, this state of affairs will persist until Théâtre la Seizième, our province’s only French-language professional theatre company, finds a venue of its own.
Adieu Monsieur Haffmann, written and directed by Jean-Philippe Daguerre. A Théâtre la Seizième presentation of an Atelier Théâtre Actuel production, with support by the Actif network. On stage at Studio 16 (1555, West 7th Ave, Vancouver) until October 5. Visit seizieme.ca for tickets and information.