A monster made of ‘Crumbs’: Soleimani’s production of Calaferte’s ‘Les Miettes’

TEHRAN, Feb. 20 (MNA) – The Iranian production of the French play ‘Les Miettes’, written by Louis Calaferte, left a lingering impact on the audience, with powerful performances that conveyed all the nuances of a monster made of monotony and regrets.

To be honest, I didn’t want to write anything on ‘Les Miettes’. It was simple enough, short enough, and I thought I would forget about it in a few hours, after a steaming mug of hot chocolate in a cozy café, or some small talk about the weather with friends.

The truth is, I didn’t forget about it. Not after a few hours, and not now after five days, that I am writing this.

I thought if I was still thinking about the play – bits and pieces that filtered in through my wandering mind – then it warranted a review at least. It’s funny how something about old age, (which most of us nearing our midlife crisis would love nothing more than to ignore as long as possible), and built upon the concept of inertia and maintaining the status quo (boring, right?), had the potential to leave such a strong impact on you. It throws you for a loop, when you don’t expect it at all. Maybe that’s why you are startled in the first place. Not because the impact is particularly huge, but because it is there at all. It’s a small nudge for sure, but why do you feel like you have toppled over and ended up on the ground?

Caught completely off guard.

I had a chance to watch the play on Friday as part of the insanely-packed program of Fajr Theater Festival. The venue was really small, 50 seats at most, and when I finally made it through the crowd to reach my seat, it was already taken by someone else who wouldn’t just give up the relative comfort of his stolen seat. Sitting on the steps instead, and it was a blessing the whole performance was about an hour long (I have sat through plays of over two hours long and I have suffered), and the whole thing blew past me like a breeze, and not even once did I feel the need to look down at my watch.

The play, written by French novelist Louis Calaferte (1928 - 1994), is called ‘The Crumbs’; a name so aptly chosen that you can’t help feeling impressed (it’s all about the nuances; the little, irritating things that you sweep under the rug). However, I doubt my lingering thoughts have much to do with the play per se as they do with the performance, directed by Kourosh Soleimani. It’s 52 pages (the Persian-translated version) of back-to-back dialogue, with little to no setting (everything just boils down to a wornout couch, two stools and a wooden table), and the only conflict that kind of scratches the surface, and causes small ripples on the otherwise tranquil life of the middle-aged couple is something that we don’t even get to see (and for all we know, it wasn’t even that grand a conflict to warrant the level of panic the couple went through).  

So, I would say most of the weight of the play was carried on the brilliant and convincing performance of its two actors, Anahita Eghbalnejad who played as the old woman, and Reza Behboudi, who played her male counterpart.

Eghbalnejad’s facial expressions were amazing; that self-satisfied smile that pushed up her cheeks to the brim of her thick glasses, her shuffling around the place in her comfortable loafers, and the way she fussed about the smallest things – gathering up bread crumbs from the floor in her hands – and the way she put her legs up on the table to start knitting, they all painted a perfect picture of an old woman content with the monotony of her uneventful life, never mind that the actual actress is probably only in her 40s.

And then, Behboudi’s little ticks and gestures added so many layers to his character that you would think this old man in his plain clothes and a habit of drinking coffee before bed and all his regrets and long overdue aspirations is real; that every time he rubbed his chest with a pinched expression, complaining about a burning sensation in his stomach, you felt the phantom burn in your body as well.  

He is a middle-aged man living an ordinary life, with all the little, ordinary dreams that were never realized (they don’t have any children; he didn’t pursue a music career; maybe he should just buy a Cocker Spaniel?)

Meanwhile, his wife is content with her “quiet” life, and rebuffs the man’s every attempt to change the monotony of their seemingly peaceful existence. The only time she tries to nudge the man toward a change, is when she asks him to pick up playing the piano again.

“That page has been turned, that book has been closed,” is the man’s answer.

And the play’s climax comes in the form of off-sight voices outside their door; when two bulky men, probably dangerous too, start banging on the door of their new neighbors, and the sounds grow so loud, while the old couple is panicking inside, and when the strangers finally break the door down, the old man wants to go outside to help, but the old woman, ever the cautious and sensible one, advises him against the idea.

But despite the man’s persistence and tirade about the moral principle of helping out those in need, you can see that deep down, he doesn’t really wish to go outside. It’s not so much that he cannot just take the key from his wife, unlock the door and rush to the unknown neighbors, but what really stops him is his own inner, deep-seated roots and chains that have shackled him to the ground a long time ago.

Of course, he would love to put the blame on someone else for his own failures and inability to take action, but in reality, the actual monster of the story, is what comes from within. And this realization is what shakes you to the core, because you may not be in your 50s yet, chained to an uneventful life with a lifetime partner, but you do recognize the signs of that same monster inside, and sometimes it’s the little things, the nothings, the crumbs, that are the scariest monster in the cupboard.

‘Les Miettes’ is written by French novelist Louis Calaferte, which won the International Ibsen Award in 1978.

Kourosh Soleimani is an Iranian actor and stage director born in 1973 in Kermanshah. He has so far appeared in 21 plays, seven movies, 18 TV series, and directed 16 plays for the theater including ‘Follow Me’ written by English playwright Peter Shaffer, and ‘Suddenly a Pit Can’ written by Amir Ali Nabavian.

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