Shakespeare for Everyone

 


by Ronald Harwood • directed by Joseph Small & Nicole Potter • March 25, 2001
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 “I am a liar who always tells the truth.”
— Jean Cocteau

Chronology of Sarah Bernhardt: A loose translation from the catalogue for the exposition of “Sarah Bernhardt ou Le Divin Mensonge” (Sarah Bernhardt or the Divine Lie) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (French National Library), October 2000 - January 2001.

1840, 1844 or 1846: Born Rosine Bernard to Judith Bernhardt in Paris.

1857: Catholic Convent

1862: Hired by the Comédie‑Française; critical disaster in her debut, the title role in Iphigenia. She's fired.

1862-64: Small roles in commercial Paris theatres.

1864: Birth of Maurice, her son; presumed father is the Prince of Ligne (Belgium), whom she had an affair with in 1863.

1864-1869: Triumphs in several major roles in commercial Paris theatres.

1870-71: Organizes ambulances and impromptu hospitals for the wounded in the Franco-Prussian War.

1872-74: Affair with legendary actor Mounet-Sully. Returns to the Comédie‑Française.

1879: Comédie‑Française residence in London, where Sarah is a sensation. She becomes a correspondent for The Globe. She leaves the Comédie‑Française the next year.

1880-81: Triumphant first North American Tour in plays by Alexandre Dumas. She makes a special trip to New Jersey to meet Thomas Edison.

1881: She gives her son the Théâtre de l'Ambigu in Paris, which she had purchased.

1882: European Tour (including Russia). Marriage to Aristide Damala.

1883: Unauthorized and unflattering biography, Memoires of Sarah Barnum by Marie Colombier is published. Separation from her husband. For the first time, Sarah sells some of her jewelry because of financial difficulties.

1884 & 1887: Tour of British Isles (including Ireland) in Macbeth and Hamlet, among others.

1886: She sells her apartments in Paris. North and South American Tour.

1887: She buys a house Paris, which she keeps until her death.

1889: Tour of Egypt and Turkey. Her husband dies.

1891-93: World Tour (including Africa, Australia and both Americas). In London, she rehearses Salomé, which Oscar Wilde wrote for her, but the play is banned before opening.

1893: Affair with Jules Lemaitre, who wrote The Kings for her.

1895: She meets Edmond Rostand who begins writing plays for her, notably Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac (though she didn’t originate the role).

December 9, 1896: National Day of Homage to Sarah Bernhardt in France.

1897: She welcomes Eleonora Duse to the Théâtre de la Renaissance, which she purchased in 1893, but leaves for a European Tour.

1899: She leaves the Renaissance to take over the Théâtre des Nations (today the Théâtre Sarah Berhnardt). Tour of Europe in Hamlet.

1904: She buys the fort on Belle-Ile, an island off the Southern coast of Brittany.

1905-06: North and South American Tour. Severe pain in her right knee due to repeated falls in Joan of Arc, Tosca and The Eaglet. Henrik Ibsen writes The Lady of the Sea for her, which debuts in Geneva.

1907: Her autobiography, My Double Life is published. She accepts a professorship at the Paris Conservatory.

1908: Film version of Tosca. Last European Tour (including Russia), with a detour to Egypt and Turkey.

1909: She writes a play, The Heart of Man, which debuts in Paris.

1910-13: Tour of the United States. Affair with Lou Tellegen. Release of the film, Elizabeth, Queen of England, which becomes a sensation in America.

1914: She receives the Legion of Honor from the French government.

1915: Amputation of her right leg. Visits French troops fighting World War I several days later.

1916-18: London engagements. Farewell Tour in America. Title role in film Jeanne Doré.

1920: Title role in Athalie (play).

1921: London farewell.

1922: Last public performance in Daniel in Turin, Italy.

1923: Title role in the film La Voyante, being shot in her Paris house.

March 26, 1923: Dies in the arms of her son, Maurice. Several hundred thousand follow her funeral procession. La Voyante is completed with a double.

 

Sarah Bernhardt in Phaedra
drawn by Toulouse-Lautrec

CAST

Pitou

Joseph Small*

Major Denucé

Paul Dubois*

Sarah

Vicki Hirsch*

Madame de Gournay

Nicole Potter*

Louis

Eddie Boroevich

Special thanks to Lucie Chin, Bev Lacy, Sandra Martin, Variety and Dominique Boyon

*Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA)

Ronald Harwood (born 1934) went to England from South Africa in 1951 and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  He was an actor for seven years, and began writing in 1960.

After the Lions is the second part of his "Plays Theatrical" trilogy, the first being The Dresser and the third installment being Taking Sides.  He also writes for film and wrote the screenplay for the film version of The Dresser and The Pianist.  Mr. Harwood was president of the international PEN Club from 1993 to 1997.

To the Editor:

Bravo!  Bravo.  I've just returned from this afternoon's production by the Kings County Shakespeare Festival of After the Lions, a dramatic venue, for a deeply compelling segment of Sarah Bernhardt's life.  The performance by Vicki Hirsch in the title role was nothing less than astonishing.  Though advertised as a staged reading, this single performance was so completely thought through, that the five performers could often be seen delivering "the goods," without referencing the script in hands.

This company is a remarkable group of performers.  To label these people as actors or performers — à la Hollywood — would be not to discern that these performers are very, very real and skillful people, connected to the core of their individual lives.

Last summer, after previous extraordinary productions of Macbeth, Pericles and Love's Labours Lost, the Parks Department declined to renew the Festival's presence in the Prospect Park picnic house, instead opting to contract weddings.  In rescuing the Festival by giving the Kings County Shakespeare Festival a home, St. Francis College gained benefits for itself, among them being known for its good will.  The Parks Department's loss is our community's gain.  This said, my primary point for writing this letter is to remind our community of the wonderful presence this company has in our community.  Deborah Wright Houston, Artistic Director, is a powerful force for this tremendous "good," and she with her company needs whatever support we can muster, be it verbal, financial or whatever you choose.  Our community has, at least for the time being, lost our Brooklyn Heights Orchestra, another company most recently experiencing an exciting ascendancy.  This must not be allowed to happen again.  Now that downtown Brooklyn is regenerating itself, we need to create the space for great art to exist without fear of landlords and poor funding.

— Jonathan Fey
in a letter to the Brooklyn Heights Press

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