Naked Goddess France in a tub, three silent Graces, and a stately tango usher us into the romantic arena of Charles Mee's Paris. To use two appropriately French-derived words, Fêtes de la Nuit is a collage of vignettes on the theme of love, but it's more visceral, and rewarding, than the typical movie of intertwined stories like Valentine's Day.
We'll call it a play for want of a better word, but it's more of a theatrical celebration, scene after scene of a richly observed and finely sketched world where romantic love is subject number one, with sex, art, and the character of a great city clustering close behind. A woman waits in a café for the love of her life; she hasn't met him yet but is saving a seat for as long as it takes. A roué leads a rapt group on a tour of the gardens of Paris and other important places in the history of his colorful love life. An art class, a fashion show, a lecture on the history of coffee – these are just a few of the show's elements, but the less stagy moments are just as affecting. Three people on a park bench grope each other sensuously until the middle one slips away, satisfied she's brought the other two together. A spurned lover tried to re-seduce her ex. A lonely man dances with his coat. Almost magically, these characters whom we only glimpse come brightly alive, exuding sorrow, angst, joy in turn.
The large ensemble cast includes singers, dancers, and deaf actors, and is virtually without a weak link. Kim Weild's intimate yet expressive staging moves us effortlessly from café to park to catwalk to dreamscape. Of special note is the smoky score and sound design, by Brian H. Scott, but all the technical elements measure up to the high quality of the performances. With no intermission, the show goes on a touch too long. I wouldn't want to be the one to have to choose what to cut, though.
I highly recommended this show for anyone with an appreciation for life's pleasures. Only small children and people who don't like nudity on stage should stay away. It's a perfect valentine for yourself, your lover, your friends. Fêtes de la Nuit runs through Feb. 27 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.
Photos by Jill Usdan. 1. (L-R): Catherine dies of love: Jessica Green (Catherine) and Khris Lewin (Roland). 2. (L-R): Lartigue (Babis Gousias) leads the merriment.