August 2, 2021

“I absolutely cannot imagine dealing head-on with what is called a topical subject”

One fine day in early June, Marie NDiaye sat down on a bench on the banks of the Garonne in Bordeaux. Facing the river, she talked about the theater, and what drives it. Two of his pieces are on view: Berlin my boy, at the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, in Paris, staged by Stanislas Nordey, from June 16, and Royan, which will be performed at the Festival d’Avignon by Nicole Garcia.

Do you remember the first time you went to the theater?

Yes, it was at the Les Gémeaux theater, in Sceaux [Hauts-de-Seine], and it was an assemblage of vaudeville scenes. I forgot the title. I was there thanks to the college, which had taken us. I must have been 13 years old. What struck me was the smell of the stage, and the embarrassment I felt at being so close to the actors.

“When I read ‘Les Bonnes’ by Jean Genet, I understood that we could make literature with theater”

I went to the movies a lot because my mother was and remains a profound cinephile. In the cinema, the intermediary of the screen protects a little from this proximity with the actors. Being so close to their skin, to their flesh, to the intimacy they offered us, I found it both overwhelming and slightly unpleasant. Then I didn’t go back to the theater until I was an adult, and I didn’t miss it. On the other hand, I became a reader of plays. And when I read The good ones, by Jean Genet, I understood that we could make literature with theater.

Why ?

Because before, I was only a reader of novels, and I had the impression that a play was a bit like a script, that it was an instrument for a show, and that the show was necessarily the goal. of writing a play. Discovering The good ones, I realized that we could of course represent The good ones, but that we could also simply read The good ones, like Proust, or Flaubert. I attended a performance of the play in Berlin, but seeing the faces of the two women didn’t please me very much.

I have read Koltès’s plays over and over again. I saw In the loneliness of the cotton fields in the staging of Chéreau. The show must have been remarkable, but I forgot it, as I remember very well the places where I read the play.

It is not common for novelists to write theater, as you do …

It amazes me that it is not more frequent. I don’t really see a seal between the two writing practices. The only thing that changes is the technical side, of course. But, for me, it’s really the same literary gesture. Except that I might never have written a theater if I hadn’t had a commission. All my pieces are born of orders.

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