Paris, July 6th, 2019

Théâtre de la Ville

“Mary said what she said”

A play by Darryl Pinckney,

With Isabelle Huppert,

Directed by Robert Wilson


The play, a monologue, is entitled Mary said what she said.  The actress is Isabelle Huppert and the director is Robert Wilson, two major figures in the performing arts. The venue is the Théâtre de la Ville in the Espace Cardin, an  extremely nice and comfortable theater, which is not true of most theaters in Paris, much more charming with their 18thcentury décor but usually so tight that you have to sit sideways.

My first comment is that whatever Mary said was for the most part inaudible.So to try to recap and understand what the play was all about, I did what people do nowadays, and googled Queen Mary. In a nutshell, Mary Suart (1542-1587) became queen of Scotland at the ripe age of 6 days, but not being able to express her ideas yet, had to relinquish her royal duties to regents. She was brought up in France, where she married the heir to Henri II, the Dauphin Francis, who died a year later. She returned to Scotland and the Scottish throne in 1561, and later, in 1565, married Henry Stuart, whence the name she goes by. They had a son, James. In 1567, following a sinister plot which resulted in Henry’s death, she married his presumed assassin, James Hepburn. In 1567, she abdicated in favor of her son James and went to England to seek Queen Elizabeth I’s protection (against whom or what, I don’t know). The cousins were not close and Elizabeth who was, probably justly so, paranoid had Mary beheaded in 1587, accused of plotting against her.

Unfortunately, I only gathered this information after the play, which really spoiled most of it for me. So here we are (I went with 3 friends which makes 4 different opinions about the play). The beautiful red velvet curtain rises. The vision is stunning. A stark white backdrop, two lighted lines marking the stage, and a black silhouette of a woman in Elizabethan attire with her back turned to the audience. The music is agressively repetitive, but the staging is so incredibly beautiful that you sit back with great expectation, eager to see how the play will develop. There are strange sounds, voices and shrieks and giggles in the back ground, maybe to indicate the presence of a baby Mary Stuart. And then Mary-Isabelle Huppert starts her monologue of which I, a native French speaker, could not understand a word, as the microphone was awful and the music covered the words.

And so it went on, a woman with her back turned to the audience, in an obviously black Elizabethan costume, ranting on about something. Then she turns around and the lighting shows a fittingly pale Isabelle Huppert in the gorgeous costume, with the characteristic “collerette”, a narrow high collar which reminds one of the Burmese giraffe women of Padaung. And Mary goes on saying what she has to say, a little easier to fathom as you can at least read her lips. So goes the play, a monologue which one can unfortunately not hear, which makes all the stage directions rather incomprehensible. Once in a while you realize what she is talking about as, at a certain point, mysterious  birds contrabanded from Brazil which died at sea, and as the fact that, a torn mother, she had never seen her son James. And that’s about it. A lot of pacing back and forth, a lot of grimaces, a bizarre and often ludicrous delivery, going from extremely slow to racing, and always the beauty of the décor and lighting,and  a sudden burst of mist which could represent the misty climate of Scotland or the clouds of heaven, again indecipherable as the source of information was sorely obscure.

A word must be said about Ms. Huppert’s tour de force. The monologue was very long, the stage directions very demanding, and she never missed a beat. And yet, it was extremely tedious. One of the reasons was that the actress does not have a very clear delivery and voice. Luckily, most of the audience had better ears than I do as they raved and cheered and threw flowers at the end of the one-woman show.

Very predictably (and how I kept waiting for that moment!), the play ended as it had begun, with Mary again a black silhouette across the snowy white backdrop, but with the only great surprise of the evening: she still had her head on!