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Georges Bigot gives Actors' Gang another boost with 'Oy'

The French director has been collaborating with Tim Robbins for nearly 30 years. The play centers on sisters discussing the Holocaust.

July 05, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • French theater director and actor Georges Bigot is directing the two-person play "Oy" at the Actors' Gang in Culver City.
French theater director and actor Georges Bigot is directing the two-person… (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

The night after the first preview of "Oy," a two-character play about the Holocaust that he directed for the Actors' Gang theater, French actor and director Georges Bigot arrived for an interview at the Culver City theater looking tired and bleary-eyed.

He apologized — there had been a "celebration" after the performance.

Bigot had only a few hours before he flew home to Paris. Cellphones in each of his pants pockets occasionally interrupted the proceedings as did the cacophony emanating from the stage where a summer camp for teenage actors was taking place.

Despite his exhaustion and the presence of a translator, Bigot's passion for the arts came through.

Bigot has been a friend and artistic collaborator of Actors' Gang co-founder Tim Robbins for nearly 30 years, since Robbins sought out a workshop Bigot taught when he was in Los Angeles for the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. That workshop, Robbins says, "pretty much changed our direction forever."

In "Oy," which opened Saturday and continues through July 28, the elderly German Jewish sisters Selma (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and Jenny (Jeanette Horn) are invited to their hometown to talk about their experience under the Nazis. The play follows their discussions and impressions of the visit as they cook together in their kitchen in Paris and reveals the truths that they didn't share with their audience.

In her review, The Times' Charlotte Stoudt wrote, "Director Georges Bigot, a key influence on the Actors' Gang aesthetic, delivers unmistakably European theater here; the emphasis lies on the mise-en-scène, not narrative; on history, not suspense."

Though "Oy," said Bigot, "speaks of Shoah. It also speaks of racism today.

"I don't know about your country," he went on, "but with the situation with the crisis with the banks and no work, people in France follow the extreme right. We have three extreme right deputies in France. For me, it's absolutely sad because they say they are a normal political party, but they are fascists. They are Nazis. So art is my way to try and resist [the right-wing]."

So far, the right wing in France hasn't silenced the arts, Bigot said, adding "a country that does not support theater is a dead country."

In 1984, Bigot was one of the stars to emerge from the Olympic Arts Festival because of his dazzling performance in Théâtre du Soleil's highly stylized theatrical production of Shakespeare's "Richard II," which was a combination of kabuki and commedia dell'arte. Bigot even graced the Olympic Arts Festival's poster, which featured him looking in a mirror as he put on the finishing touches of makeup.

Bigot and Robbins met that year. Robbins, who hadn't yet broken into films, took an intense two-month acting workshop with Bigot at Stages Theatre in Los Angeles.

Before Bigot, the Actors' Gang "had the right passion and commitment and dedication to craft, punk rock anarchy and energy," said Robbins. "What we didn't have was discipline. We didn't have a structure to put in it, a form.

"What I came to realize was that Georges provided us that discipline, the vocabulary. It was his commitment to emotional truths that struck me. The true essence of what he was doing was at once devastatingly real and true and also incredibly theatrical. One of the things I was more impressed with him was the idea of how much he made sure everyone was invested in the audience and to never take them for granted."

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