Performing Arts: Theater
January 11, 2020
In their production, Unmaking Toulouse-Lautrec, Bated Breath Theatre Company shares the dark story of the life of famed painter and poster maker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Set in Paris in the late 1800’s, the interactive play follows along with Henri’s tragedies from aristocracy and great talent to alcoholism and homelessness.

“Bonjour chérie”! An actor giggles and waves patrons into the smoky, red lounge. Dressed in fishnet tights, bustiers, and colorful tutus the actors stretch, mingle, and saunter around the intimate setting mimicking a French salon. After getting a drink at the bar, patrons fill the red velvet couches and barstools as period music plays overhead. Without any prior warning, Toulouse-Lautrec stumbles into the space, trips onto a couch, and falls asleep. The girls laugh “Henri you’re drunk”, they giggle. He shouts back, “You should be drunk!” as he slumps back down onto the sofa.

This cues the beginning of the work as the rest of the cast enter into the small space, and begin to chronicle Toulouse-Lautrec's life in the form of a eulogy at his funeral. They describe how they met Toulouse-Lautrec, their relationship to him, and some highlights of his life. However, in many instances this form of story telling feels jumpy, inconclusive, and oddly biographical.

The audience learns that Toulouse-Lautrec's father and mother were first cousins, which is why he was born with a congenial birth defect. Weakness in his bones caused both legs to break and never heal properly inhibiting his movement for life. His disability forced him to be a social outcast.

Toulouse-Lautrec felt ashamed and depressed which led to alcoholism. His lack of mobility also led to his obsession with the human body- which is why the play places him most often at the infamous French brothels studying and sketching the women.

When Toulouse-Lautrec's fascination with the dirty and grotesque began to become well known, he was commissioned by the Moulin Rouge for illustrations and posters. The audience is told that today much of his work sells for multimillion dollars.

All this to say, this is the extent of the plot-line of the play. With brief interjections on his relationship with his mother and some women at the brothel, the plot feels under developed and unfinished. The bulk of the story is revealed to the audience by the actors as fact, instead of watching it play out in real time.

In many instances, the transitions between sections of information are filled with awkward dance breaks and choppy sing song story telling. Though the interaction with the audience was enjoyable, and the atmosphere made for the perfect collaboration, it felt as though the reliance on this environment compromised the need for the play to fully develop, leaving the audience members feeling somewhat confused.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

©2001 Eye and Dance and the Arts | All Rights Reserved