April 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 76
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Paris' Surprise: "JESUS, THE RESURRECTION" is Colossal Jubilee Drama

    PARIS, APR 13 ( Close to 2,500 adults will be baptized in France this Easter, according to the catechumen service of the Catholic Church in France. At present some 9,500 adults convert to Catholicism every year, a figure that has doubled over the past decade.

    According to data given by the dioceses, 80% of those who will be baptized are between 18 and 40 years of age. They come from all social classes, including government employees and persons with an unknown address. About 30% are of humble origin, and 11% live in precarious circumstances. The majority of adult catechumens (79%) did not belong to another religion.

    "They are people searching for God. Many are children of '68 who are seeking a spiritual dimension," stated Fr. Dominique Sentucq, the director of the catechumen service of the French Church.

    Meanwhile in Paris, nine years after his colossal "His Name Was Jesus," Robert Hossein has again won the applause of public and critics alike with his drama "Jesus, the Resurrection," which is playing in the Sports Palace to 5,000-capacity audiences. The play will run until July 16.

    Hossein, a convert to Christianity after achieving professional success, is both producer and director of the new work. His collaborator in writing the script is French historian and academic Alain Decaux. Both hoped to repeat their success with a work dedicated to Christ. In 1991 Hossein presented "His Name Was Jesus," a gigantic remake of the grandiose "A Man Called Jesus," performed in 1984. Its 700,000 spectators made it the greatest box office success in the history of French theater.

    Over the past two decades, Hossein and Decaux, who have become close friends, have given the public a series of works inspired in historical personages or literary masterpieces, including "Rasputin," "Les Miserables," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Danton and Robespierre." Last year, the play "De Gaulle, the Man who Said No," played for 6 months.

Jubilee Work

    Hossein and Decaux have made their contribution to the Jubilee with the play "Jesus, the Resurrection." "Everyone spoke about the millennium, but very few referred to Jesus Christ," the famous director said. "In this way, Alain and I thought of filling the void."

    "With Robert I share a common faith in God and man; what is more, the figure of Christ is more contemporary than ever," historian Decaux added.

    Hossein concurred. "His currency needs no emphasizing. Jesus is the man who identifies with the victims of all the tragedies of our time."

    In contrast to the previous works on Christ, this time Hossein's stage design is much more sober. He does not need to take recourse to extraordinary special effects. There are no projections on gigantic screens. The technical prowess is discreet. But Hossein retains his very singular aesthetic outlook. He tries to reconstruct sacred Medieval representations, with dashes of 70s hippie imagination, which have characterized his creativity. If the spectator accepts this world, he will experience very powerful moments.

    In one scene, a young woman wends her way slowly down a mountain, resting her hand gently on her abdomen: it is Mary, silently following Joseph. Behind them, three crosses rise in the distance, while the lighting transforms the caves into Bethlehem's streets. The couple disappears behind a door; night descends. The scenes succeed one another, like choreographic pictures inspired in the paintings of Italian Renaissance masters, or early Flemings, but especially Salvador Dalí.

    There have been two criticisms of the drama, however. A certain coldness in Jesus, played by 6 foot 3 inch tall Georges Ichenko, an impassible Swede with a blond beard and long hair. At all times there is an ethereal air about him. The only moment of tenderness is when he turns to the paralytic, one of the highlights of the "pičce." This would seem to be the director's response to contemporary representations of a very human Christ, like the latest television production, "Jesus."

    Another criticism of the drama is the recourse to surprise effects, already used in previous Hossein productions, which were in part the reason for his success. As, for example, the trick of mixing actors with the public, so that during the miracle of the loaves and fishes, they distribute half a loaf of bread to a number of spectators. Or the fictitious interval when a very human Jesus expels the ice cream and Coca-Cola vendors from the Parisian figure-skating temple.

    The impression is that Hossein is not keen on innovation. He limits himself to removing all that is superfluous and retains those elements that are necessary to witness to his faith. The result is a sort of personal catechism, which attests to the Resurrection as Jesus among us.

    When the performances end in Paris in July, the producers hope to take the play to Rome for the World Youth Day, scheduled for mid-August. ZE00041420 and ZE00041308


April 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 76

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