“I love you / Much less than my God, but much more than myself”

It had been two years since I had been to the theater – for the reasons we all know. I went back there on Sunday afternoon with ideal weather for this outing – grey, damp and cold. Along the way, my early excitement cooled. One piece, yes! Finally rediscovering the stages, the cozy atmosphere of the rooms, the red plush of the armchairs, even the perfume of these places, indefinable and recognizable among all. Amidst the hubbub of conversations, wait for the ringtone and then the three-shot signal. And finally, with all the lights off, experience the magic moment of the curtain raising, and the first spells of illusion… But Polyeucte ! My enthusiasm had again played tricks on me. I had said yes without thinking to these friends who arranged to meet me in rue du Havre. If only it had been Racine… But Corneille! I still remembered the ordeal suffered at the Comédie-Française, in 2005, when I went, with the same enthusiasm, to see The Cidwhich had not been given there for ages.

→ SELECTION. From Molière to “Tartuffe”, the waltz of myths

What a disappointment! We had chosen for Rodrigue an avatar of Sancho Panza, clumsy and floundering, always at the wrong time, not to say against the grain, yelling at his declarations of love to Chimene, and murmuring his feats of arms in a secretive tone. As for Chimene! It looked like Olive landed by mistake at the port. I don’t know why the actress declaimed with the diction of a scowling teenager. She attached to each of her verses this fateful “eu”, chanted the alexandrines on a rap tempo. Imagine the nerves of the audience, hearing him throw (for example): “Half of my life (eu) has put the other in the tomb (eu) / And obliges me to avenge (eu), after this disastrous blow (eu) / The one I no longer have (had) on that which I have left (had). » Imagine the discredit brought to Corneille, whose “inhuman moral propriety” is shunned today! Imagine the disillusion of the young spectators who came for the first time to take communion at Le Français, the very temple of the great classics!

My friends were waiting for me in front of the entrance to the Espace Bernanos, where the play was being performed. Too late to hide from me. Go for Polyeucte, whose plot I vaguely remembered, and whom Corneille cherished like his favorite child.

A spell later, when the curtain fell, I was up, for a standing ovation with the audience. Who were they applauding like that? The text, chiseled and powerful? The costumes, strictly perfect? The rigorous staging given to the decor? Or the excellence of the actors? All together, they had just affirmed what makes the emotion of the theater, that it must increase with a foreign life – theirs, entirely. They had just communicated to us that mixture of spark and trembling proper to truth or to poetry. They had reached Corneille’s point – to take away our souls. During the five acts of this tragedy, they transmitted to us an exalted feeling of existence and, therefore, a mad energy. Aloysia Delahaut was Pauline, as Romain Duquaire was Polyeucte, and the six other actors, all embodied their role with something that went beyond talent – ​​generosity, self-sacrifice, youth. During the performance, we were transported to the 3rd century AD, Armenia. We followed Pauline, and feared with her that her husband Polyeucte, whom she loved, would be assassinated by Sévère, her first love. And that it is on the order of his father, governor delegated by Rome. Pauline dreamed of it and since then she has been shaking. However, the baptism of Polyeucte, at a time when the emperor demands that the Christians be exterminated, will precipitate the fate of all.

Suspended in the plot, bathed in the sublime of the verb, we experienced the dilemma of the characters – can we prefer to die for God, than to live for the one we love? How to love a lover capable of preferring martyrdom to love? We have made their questioning our own: can one call oneself a Christian and be afraid of being one? The space of representation, we have spanned nineteen centuries. Those of Polyeucte and those of Corneille, up to ours. Because it is another sign of the genius of a work to bend time, like an origami. Polyeucte, tragedy with a Christian subject, can it still speak to us today? », asks Rafaële Minnaert, the author of this staging that puts the heart in tune with the sublime. Oh how much! Not so much because of the current persecution of Christians in Armenia and the East, or because of the denigration to which this religion is subject in the world, but because Polyeucte makes us understand the fecundity of love, and the power of the will through which full interior freedom is exercised. Because, in these dark times, she simply offers us her light and speaks to us of grace.


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