A new verse translation of Edmond Rostand’s early one-act play, by Thom Christoph, with an introduction by Sue Lloyd (Genge Press, 2007)
ISBN 978-0-9549043-2-6. A5 paperback, 44 pages. Price £4.50 (£5.00 including postage in UK); set of five: £20 (£22.00 including postage); Euros 6.50; US $ 9.00, Canadian $ 10, Australian $ 11, New Zealand $ 12.50. Postage extra on all overseas prices
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This lively three-hander was written by Edmond Rostand in 1889 for performance by himself and his friends in the garden of the Rostand family’s summer villa in Luchon, in the French Pyrenees. At twenty-one, Edmond was not sure whether to be a poet or a playwright; this playlet was to decide his career, for it was to prove his entrée into the French theatre of his day.
The characters come from the Italian comedy: the lovely Columbine, her partner Harlequin, her father Cassander and of course the Pierrots. In Rostand’s play, he imagines that Harlequin is dead, and two Pierrots are wooing Columbine (or Colombina, as we have in this version), one sad one and one happy one. The original title of the piece was Pierrot qui pleure et Pierrot qui rit ( Weeping Pierrot and Laughing Pierrot).
As he would do in his later plays, especially Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand expresses his own character in his two Pierrots.
Pierrot One is cheerful, unworried by worldly cares as long as he can “let his verses peal like chimes”. This embryonic Cyrano certainly has panache, with a feather in his hat rather than a white plume. Like Cyrano, Laughing Pierrot keeps his heart well hidden, preferring to meet the world with a smiling face. Rostand revered tears as an expression of deep feeling, and this Pierrot’s one tear, unlike the copious but superficial tears of his companion, reveals his soul to Colombina. Edmond himself may seem to his acquaintances, and to us in his plays, a Laughing Pierrot, but he also had a well-hidden inner melancholy, though he does not exploit this for sympathy as Pierrot Two does. In later life Rostand would often suffer from depression, in spite of his success.
This one-act curtain-raiser in verse already displays many of the qualities that were to make Cyrano de Bergerac so successful. Lighthearted, witty and ingeniously rhymed, it deserves to be better known.
When the playlet was offered to the Comédie Française, its Director was so impressed by Rostand’s talent that he invited him to submit another curtain-raiser. Boldly Rostand promised to offer a full three-act play this time. This would be Les Romanesques (more familiar to English-speaking audiences as the origin of the long-running musical, The Fantasticks). The success of this play in 1894 opened the way for Rostand to become an established playwright – no less a figure than Sarah Bernhardt would star in La Princesse lointaine in 1895 and in La Samaritaine at Easter 1897. The end of that same year would see the triumph of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Les Deux Pierrots is typical of Rostand’s poetry, in sentiments and style.
Though he keeps to the conventional alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes, the liberties Rostand takes with the traditional alexandrine, often breaking it into pieces shared among different speakers, make the play seem very modern. The wordplay; the wit in characterisation and situation as well as in language; the lyrical passages extolling the beauty of the earth and the seasons, and the daring rhymes: all foreshow his later work.
Rostand’s merry spirit and youthful optimism infuse the whole play. It was long a favourite with amateur players, and often used as a curtain-raiser to Les Romanesques. Thom Christoph’s lively and witty version will introduce this gem of a play to wider audiences.
Thom Christoph has also translated Les Deux Pierrots and two other Rostand plays into German: Les Romanesques and La Princesse Lointaine. These are available for performance from Austrian publisher Kaiser Verlag (www.kaiserverlag.at).
Previous Translations into English
Amy Lowell: Weeping Pierrot and Laughing Pierrot (New York & Boston, 1914), with music by Jean Hubert (Alexis Rostand)
V & F Vernon: The Two Pierrots or The White Supper, in Modern
One-Act Plays from the French (New York: Samuel French, 1933)