There’s not much I can add to the discussion of Ariane Mnouchkine’s Les Ephemeres, currently playing at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Isherwood captures it nicely in the Times when he says, it is “a deep, steady stream that ultimately opens out into a vista of beauty both humble in its mundane details and immense in its emotional impact.”
I saw the entire piece on Sunday and I have to say I can’t imagine only seeing one half. Kind of like Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s NO DICE, the payoff is in the second half, in sticking with the whole thing and having that cathartic breakthrough. I made it through the first half and was impressed but kind of underwhelmed. I was expecting something much more overwhelming and grandiose – what I got was a series of really intimate vignettes on spinning set pieces. I was amazed by the stagecraft and impressed by the acting but couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Then in the second half all of these strands started to really connect – if only obliquely – and the entire enterprise took on the grandeur and complexity of a great Russian novel unfurling over generations, with the decisions of one generation affecting the lives of the next in ongoing and invisible ways.
Paying that much attention for that long – and trying to keep everything straight – was pretty taxing but totally worth it. If you can only see one half I would almost say just skip it , you need to see the whole thing, preferably in one day. If you can do that, you should. It is not very often that you get to see something as extraordinary and transporting as Les Ephemeres.