The Loving Servant” is a keenly involving, unabridged performance for the camera of a 1752 Carlo Goldoni play first staged by the Comedie-Francaise in December ’92. Vet educator and critic Jean Douchet has captured the essence of a 2-hour evening of outstanding theater awash with contemporary resonance. For highbrow tube slots, intelligently lensed pic would make a dandy companion piece to Frederick Wiseman’s recent docu on the Comedie-Francaise.
Renowned legit thesp Catherine Hiegel gives an understated and riveting perf as Coraline, the title servant, a widow who leaves the employ of her elderly master, Ottavio (Jacques Sereys), to look after Ottavio’s virtuous grown son, Florindo (Jean-Yves Dubois). Ottavio’s conniving second wife, Beatrice (Claire Vernet), has forced Florindo to leave the family home and subsist on a miserable allowance. Beatrice wants her doddering hubby to rewrite his will in favor of Lelio, her dunce of a son.
In an era and a society in which a woman’s reputation and honor reign supreme , Coraline lives chastely with Florindo, braving gossip. Meanwhile, she puts into place an elaborate plan that will reveal Beatrice’s scheming to Ottavio, secure a bride for Florindo and restore her own perilous reputation.
It’s a thoroughly engaging, deeply feminist play that’s been freshly translated into direct, easily grasped language. The narrative’s contemporary relevance stems from the fact that every character has a hidden agenda, which makes for appealingly hard-edged mirth.
The talented cast also includes Philippe Torreton currently onscreen as the lead in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Captain Conan” as the rambunctious Harlequin, the play’s classically comic role.
For reasons of sound quality and camera placement, director Jacques Lassalle’s production (which ran for 100 sold-out performances during 15 months, and won the 1993 Moliere award for best play) was reprised on a specially re-created stage in a film studio. Original lighting, sets and blocking were respected, but helmer Douchet has rethought the presentation to achieve something that is richer than mere “filmed theater,” reveling in the artifice of the legit stage.