A conversation between love and hate.
MAAMELTEIN, Lebanon: The theater is pitch-black. Then a form begins to shuffle noisily across the stage. The indistinct contours of a silhouette appear and the audience erupts into a cacophony of clapping and whistling.
This profile could only belong to Gerard Depardieu.
With the house lights gradually illuminating the stage, the crowd's applause grows louder and, as if on cue, a poised, black-clad Fanny Ardant strides across the boards.
Depardieu and Ardant had been scheduled to star in the closing event of the Baalbeck International Festival -- performing Marguerite Duras' stage play "La Musica Deuxieme" -- in the midst of the Roman-era temple complex of Heliopolis. It would have been a dazzling setting for this drama about love and desire, cruelty and hurt.
Due to security concerns, however, festival organizers reluctantly decided the Bekaa Valley was an inappropriate venue for most of the yearly festival's acts, and relocated Ardant and Depardieu's one-night stand to the Casino du Liban theater.
The pair of veteran thespians delivered haunting performances.
These two legends of the stage and screen play Anne-Marie Roche and Michel Nollet. After three years of separation, the couple reunites for one last time in the lobby of the hotel where they lived during the first months of their marriage.
Against the backdrop of a large black wall, the set is almost bare but for a few pieces of furniture, two Persian carpets and some lamps.
Here, Anne-Marie and Michel will finalize their divorce.
Basking in the dim yellow light of three onstage lamps, the characters stay up until daybreak. As they reconstruct the past, their conversation is a volatile back and forth dance of profound pain and desire.
They speak of past misunderstandings and deceptions, of their current lives and loves, and of what they should do with the furniture in the old house.
The captivating power of Ardant's portrayal of Anne-Marie lies in the detail of it -- the way she at moments catches her breath, nervously fidgets with the strap of her purse, or crosses her legs before she makes a snide remark.
"Since the very first day in the house, you spoke of leaving," she tells her ex-husband with a smirk and a flicker of mischief in her eyes.
Seamlessly, Ardant flits from tremulous whispers as she recalls a painful memory to throaty flirtation with the man she claims made her life hell, who also happened to be the love of her life.
As she recounts a past affair with a stranger in Paris, she sits upright, her dead-eyed stare complementing an unnatural steadiness in her voice that makes the story at once riveting and devastating.
The confident and offhand elegance Ardant brings to Anne-Marie serves as a counterpoint to the passionate, and at times enraged, melancholy Depardieu brings to the role of Michel.
The chemistry between the two actors is palpable.
Late in his career Depardieu earned celebrity notoriety, and sparked outrage, when he announced that, to evade his country's tax regime, he would leave France and adopt Russian citizenship -- accomplished with the personal intervention of President Vladimir Putin.
Onstage, however, the French celebrity is transformed into Michel, who pleads for his ex-wife to stay with a quivering tenderness in his voice, and a confused vulnerability in his features as he hesitantly reaches out to caress Anne-Marie's hair.
Lost for words, he waves his white handkerchief in the air and sinks his head into his hands, a gesture of desperation so human, so empathetic, that it's easy to forget the man once played Cyrano de Bergerac -- a figure whose character is as laughably large as his nose.
When Michel is exasperated with Anne-Marie, a sarcastic edge cuts through his tone and for a fleeting moment it is possible to detect Depardieu's own persona coming through in his portrayal.
The minimalism of the set design puts the focus onto Duras' moving script, the actors' striking stage presence and their onstage chemistry.
The actors' movements are both subtle and deliberate, almost as though the stage were a shrine to their voices and to Duras' words, one whose stillness they are loath to disturb unnecessarily.
Both figures are clad in black, reflecting the somber darkness of the setting and the circumstance.
Duras described her work as the story of "two people, who cannot be together, but also cannot live without each other."
The simplicity of the surroundings in which the confrontation takes place beautifully reinforces this premise.
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