August 2005

Eleanor of Acquitaine:Mother of the Pride

Written by Catherine Muschamp • Directed by Jean Leclerc • Starring Chapelle Jaffe.

August 23 – September 10, 2005 Berkeley Street Theatre Toronto

by Stanley Fefferman

The house goes silent and dark. We hear a fanfare of trumpets, the pounding of feet, the clash of arms, and over it all, the cries of an infant. A spotlight to centre stage illuminates the figure of an aged nun, wimpled, seated asleep on an ermine covered throne.

Chapelle Jaffe’s 80 minute soliloquy conjures out of ‘airy nothing’ the life-force of this imperious woman whose determination to steer her own course in life shaped the course of European political history. She is also a guiding force in our cultural and social history. It was in her court at Poitiers that the legends of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere were written. 800 years ago, Eleanor gave birth to the rules of courtship by which we conduct our love affairs to this day.

The Coeur de Lion Company performance of Catherine Muschamps’ play, directed by Jean Leclerc, weaves a mind-numbing store of historical threads into a brilliant tapestry. Ms. Jaffe’s Eleanor, alone on the stage at the end of her life, hallucinates the audience as the ghosts of her royal husbands, children, and clerical inquisitors. She imagines she is on trial for the heresy of acting all her life as though women were equal to men. She makes ‘us’ hear her story and recognize that she was right, in everything, all along.

There is drama in the boldness and power of her life. Eleanor actually carried arms with a company of 300 women in the Second Crusade to Palestine. She married Kings of France and England. She personally traveled to ransom her son Richard Lionheart. But there is also drama in Eleanor as a figure of great pathos because of the defeats and pain she endured. Her great love King Henry denied her the political power she deserved, and, after fathering 8 children, denied her his bed. She led her sons in a war against him, lost, and was imprisoned for 14 years. Henry killed three of their sons. She outlived all but two of her 10 children.

The matter of the play is a constellation of famous historical scenes that cluster around this brilliant woman. Ms Jaffe generates the gravity to maintain them in orbit, but they are too many, and often, despite her energy, their light dims as the swirl of domestic squabbles, albeit royal ones, go on a bit more than the bystander needs to hear.

That said, one has to admire Muschamps’ achievement in manhandling the awesome mass of history around Eleanor into presentable shape. Director Leclerc and Ms. Yaffe are part of a collaboration that has realized a procession of vivid tableaus that will stay in the mind for a long time.

We welcome your comments and feedback
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Stanley Fefferman
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for The Live Music Report

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