What is Jean-Louis Trintignant, star of "Z," "A Man and a Woman," "My Night at Maud's" and "The Conformist," doing in Hollywood this week? The 61-year-old French star, veteran of 100 films, is definitely not here shooting a movie. He is instead making his American stage debut Tuesday at the Las Palmas Theatre in six performances of "Potestad," a powerful political play by Argentine playwright Eduardo Pavlovsky.
The Las Palmas performances, which will be done in French, follow a critically acclaimed concert reading of the play last summer at France's Avignon Festival. They also precede his taking the play back home for a limited run at Paris' Atelier Theatre and an ensuing French tour.
"Potestad" is being presented by Stages Theatre Center as the final event of its yearlong 10th anniversary celebration. It will be directed by Paul Verdier, who is also Stages' artistic director and the man who invited Trintignant here to perform. The two men have been friends since the late '50s when Verdier worked as assistant director on a production of "Hamlet" starring the actor.
Verdier says he sent Trintignant the play seeking production advice, never thinking he would want to take it on himself. But the director clearly underestimated Trintignant's affinity for the stage, Argentine politics and this particular role.
Although Trintignant first came to international attention in Roger Vadim's 1956 film, "And God Created Woman," he had already begun a stage career that has since led to his performing 40 plays in France. He was one of a small group of European actors and directors who went to Argentina in 1979 on a fact-finding mission, and, says Trintignant, he was impressed by "the political strength of the play, as well as its intelligence and lack of didacticism."
"Potestad" dramatizes the horrific stealing of children during the Argentine military dictatorship of the late '70s and early '80s. "The Man" in the play confronts middle age, his vulnerability to a younger wife and, most important, the loss of the daughter it appears was never his to begin with.
Playwright Pavlovsky has called his 75-minute play "an emotional striptease," and, despite a minor second character, it is essentially a one-man show. "I was immediately interested in the play and attracted to this character," says Trintignant. "You identify with him--he is appealing, sympathetic, moving. He is a horrible man also, but you don't realize this so much during the play as afterward, when you think about it at home.
"It is also such good drama," adds Trintignant. "The surprise is that the first part is so funny. People were laughing like crazy. The strength of the play is that it begins as burlesque comedy in the first part, then takes its tragic turn."
Once Trintignant was hooked, Verdier came up with what he calls "a little blackmail." If he wanted to do the play in Paris, says Trintignant, "the condition to do it was that I had to play it here first."
This is obviously a play close to Verdier's heart as well. Verdier may have been raised in Paris, but he was born in Argentina, and playwright Pavlovsky and his acting company were artists-in-residence at Stages during its Pavlovskyfest in 1987. Pavlovsky himself played "The Man" in "Potestad" at Stages then, also taking the show on to New York, London, Spain and South America. (Pavlovsky will be at Stages for Saturday's performance, which will be followed by a panel discussion in English, French and Spanish.)
Verdier and Trintignant hope the next step is an English-language production of the play, and Verdier says he originally offered the play to two prominent American actors with thoughts of a double bill during this run. While both expressed interest, he says, timing didn't work out. But, says Trintignant, "I hope all American actors of that age (the narrator refers to himself as 57) will fight over playing it in English."
There are about 50,000 French-speaking people in Southern California, says Verdier, who hopes to draw on those people as well as theatergoers who turned out en masse for foreign-language fare during the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. Early response indicated that they couldn't fit everyone in at the 49-seat Stages Theatre Center, he says, so they opted for the 396-seat Las Palmas.
The Las Palmas also offers a venue similar in size and feel to the Atelier Theatre in Paris, which is expected to house the play next year. After that, says Trintignant, he's hoping for a major tour through France. "It is a play that doesn't need any sets," he says. "You could play it on a cafe terrace, a church, any place."
Trintignant has done this before, and two years ago concluded a major tour of France with William Gibson's "Two for the Seesaw." That show played 100 performances in Paris, then toured on and off in Lyons, Marseilles and elsewhere for two more years.