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"Ephemeres" makes lasting impression

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The idea of life passing you by takes on a whole new context in "Les Ephemeres," the transcendent new theater piece that opened the Lincoln Center Festival.

Created collectively by Le Theater du Soleil and staged by its founder, acclaimed film and theater director Ariane Mnouchkine ("Moliere"), this marathon production makes even the banalities of existence seem theatrically compelling.

The piece consists of two parts, each of which runs nearly 3 1/2 hours. They each stand on their own, though it's certainly far more rewarding to see both.

The play, performed in French with English supertitles, presents a tapestry of ordinary lives via brief vignettes featuring a wide array of characters, some of whom are recurring and others who are seen only briefly.

The audience sits on two sides of the auditorium, with the playing area a narrow space in between. The scenes are performed on movable platforms, wheeled on and off by the more athletic members of the company.

Although more than a few of these episodes are, as the title indicates, ephemeral, many of them register with tremendous emotional impact. Examples include an elderly couple whose home is besieged by their obviously strung-out grandson; a genteel transvestite who makes friends with a little girl suffering social problems at school; a grieving woman reluctantly agreeing to sell her dead mother's house to a joyful new father; and an abused wife reacting all too calmly to her brutal husband's sudden heart attack.

Staged in minimal but pitch-perfect fashion, the vignettes achieve a cumulative force, reinforced by the marathonlike nature of the proceedings. The highly talented performers, including more than a few young children, are able to make even the most insubstantial characters seem fully alive.

The show doesn't really need to be as long as it is, and the wooden, pewlike seating is hardly comfortable. Despite the nice gesture of providing cookies and water to the audience during the intermissions, it seems that Mnouchkine and Co. wanted to make "Les Ephemeres" a somewhat grueling experience. But it's a small price to pay for such rich theatrical rewards.

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