Ask the average American boy what he wants to do when he grows up, and you’re likely to get answers such as “I wanna be a firefigher,” “an astronaut,” or “the president.” Spanish boys prefer “bullfighter,” and Italians will likely say “F-1 driver.” Florent Masse, a precocious Frenchman extraordinaire at the tender age of five, confessed that he wanted to be Gerard Depardieu.
Masse has come a long way since his childhood fantasy—today he is neither bedraggled nor “cyra-nosed” nor a corpulent glutton. On the contrary, he strides through the campus impeccably tailored, elegantly flailing a Marlboro Light, and occasionally exhaling its smoke through his unobtrusive nostrils, all the while contemplating passions more precious than foie-gras.
Among these passions is theater, and Professor Masse is doing everything he can to share it with students. Originally having launched the French Atelier program while on a fellowship at Amherst College, Masse decided to bring his successful theater workshop to Princeton when he joined the Department of French and Italian three years ago. His goal for the students who participate? He contemplates the question, takes a drag from his cigarette, then a swig of Diet Coke, and responds: “I propose a linguistic, artistic, and cultural adventure.”
If you’ve ever walked through the Rocky common room after dinner and heard thunderous voices reciting Molière or Racine in French, you’ve probably only partially witnessed the accomplishments of the Atelier. While the sessions he taught in the common room were the foundation of the program—amusing in their decibel level and impressive in their formality—the program reached a milestone in the spring of 2004. After having committed to a year of intense rehearsal and an intercession trip to attend a performance of Georges Feydeau’s Le Dindon [trans. The Turkey] at the Comédie-Française in Paris, the advanced students of the Atelier realized Florent’s vision of “adventure” and enacted their own interpretation of Feydeau’s Belle Epoque comedy. “I wanted to bring them France,” Masse recounts in a pedagogical tone with a pang of nostalgia for his homeland.
And invoke France they did. Every last detail was accounted for—the gestures, the sighs, the inflections, and the impromptu leg humping all spoke of France and “Frenchness,” its sexual candor and savoir-vivre, perhaps even to a parodic extent (but what is more refreshing than a culture that can laugh at itself?). There was cuckoldry and infatuation, turgescent egos (not to mention appendages) and deflating witticisms, doting husbands and demure wives with ennui, a foolish American with a southern drawl and a neurotic Frenchman who makes love while wearing socks.
Atelier’s performance of Le Dindon was the best theater I’ve seen at Princeton, particularly considering that the majority of the actors had little to no prior theater experience and did not speak French natively. I assure you, their initial lack of experience and fluency were by no means encumbering—au contraire, the Atelier students reveled in the challenge and rose to the occasion, eliciting a climactic explosion of applause from a surprised and delighted audience (really though, you know they’ve truly embraced French theater when they recite their lines to you in the throes of passion). For those of you who have missed the Atelier experience in the past—worry not—this season the Atelier students will continue to embrace French theater for your (mutual) sensory pleasure.
Winter: December, series of one-act plays directed by Professor Florent Masse and performed by the advanced students of the Atelier, La Troupe. Works by playwrights Georges Feydeau, Tennessee Williams, and Anton Chekov, amongst others.
Spring: The Atelier, beginners and La Troupe, will present its works.
April, La Troupe performs Tartuffe at 185 Nassau Street.