Paris Commune play in New York

This video is called The Paris Commune of 1871.

By Sandy English and Peter Daniels:

A turn toward history we need: Paris Commune at the Public Theater in New York

4 June 2008

Paris Commune, written by Steven Cosson and J. Michael Friedman, directed by Steven Cosson, and performed by The Civilians at the Public Lab Series Workshop at the Public Theater in New York City, April 4 to 20

Paris Commune, staged recently at the Public Theater in New York, is a musical about the first government established by the working class, which ruled the French capital from March 18 until May 28, 1871, when bourgeois troops crushed it and massacred thousands.

The artistic quality of the work and the seriousness with which the creators treat the material make this theatrical piece unusual in the current cultural environment, especially in the US. It suggests that the general restiveness and discontent in artistic circles is beginning to find a more focused expression.

Plays and other works of art about the lives of ordinary people are not entirely lacking, but a consideration of those moments when daily life becomes charged with great historical purpose has been more or less off the map for most artists.

In Paris Commune, we are presented with a thoroughgoing and lively presentation of precisely one of those moments in history.

Writers Steven Cosson and J. Michael Friedman uncovered new material from primary sources for this work. They present facets of French life often missing from accounts of the Commune—in particular, with the Public Theater production’s 14 songs and dance numbers, the popular culture of Paris in the 1870s.

The play lets the workers of Paris speak for themselves, but it fills in many of the gaps in historical knowledge that a contemporary American audience might have. (For that matter, the Commune is not widely taught in French schools, either.) At one point, for example, the play combines a lesson in French revolutions from 1789 to 1871 with a dance number that simultaneously teaches the history of the famous dance, the can-can. This scene, literally breathless, puts the Commune in context as the final and greatest revolutionary struggle of the nineteenth century.

The writers, of course, can’t fill in all the blanks in 90 minutes. A sense of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and its Napoleon III is largely missing. That is a shame, too, since the period resembles our own in many ways: the frantic greed of the ruling classes, the social polarization, the stifling political atmosphere, the constant military adventures and provocations, a vulgar and dimwitted ruler.

1 thought on “Paris Commune play in New York

  1. Pingback: Novel on Paris Commune, review | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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