The Civilians’ invigorating new music-theater work
Paris Commune is not about Occupy Wall Street, but audience members would be hard-pressed not to think about that seminal protest while sitting in the brand new Fishman Space in BAM Fisher.
The show, which features a script by Steve Cosson (who also directs) and Michael Friedman, chronicles the short-lived 1871 socialist revolution in Paris that promoted shared ownership and government by the common people. The work is presented as a Brechtian docudrama, with company members narrating the action and taking on numerous roles. There’s a quirky, off-the-cuff style to the writing, as different actors interject editorial comments that serve to highlight the ironies of what’s just been said.
A few central characters emerge, such as Louise Michel (the striking Jeanine Serralles), an anarchist schoolteacher who played a pivotal role in the revolution. A baker (the terrific Daniel Jenkins) and his seamstress wife (Aysan Celik) also figure quite prominently, adding both humor and a human dimension to the proceedings.
The Civilians revel in the idealism of these Paris revolutionaries, but there’s a certain cynicism expressed, as well. There continued to be inequities under the leadership of the Commune and it’s clear from the get-go that things are not going to end well. A brief history of French revolutions – whimsically mixed with a history of the Can-Can – foreshadows the movement’s bloody finale that the company eventually gets around to telling.
Friedman has translated and adapted the period music utilized in the play, with highlights including soprano Charlotte Dobb’s wittily raunchy take on “Oh, I Love Men in Uniform”; Celik’s affecting delivery of “My Man,” as her character searches for her missing husband in the bloody streets of Paris; and “God of the Bigots,” a rousingly provocative company number.
The entire cast – which also includes Kate Buddeke, Nina Hellman, Brian Sgambati, Sam Breslin Wright, and musical director/onstage pianist Jonathan Mastro – turns in energetic and committed performances, even if certain moments may be played a little too broadly.
And while the subject matter is historical, the piece resonates strongly with contemporary social and political events, making it feel very timely.