# 8 Dom Juan ot the feast with the statue

By Jean Lambert-wild, Lorenzo Malaguerra and Marc Goldberg


The creative team behind DOM JUAN OR THE FEAST WITH THE STATUE share diary entries about their new show.


At the start of the third rehearsal period, we will have to answer a decisive question: how will Gramblanc, Jean Lambert-wild’s white clown, play the Dom Juan we started to discover when we adapted the play and in the first rehearsal periods?

As rehearsals progressed and seeing how difficult we were finding this task, we realised that, in Gramblanc’s adventures with the classics, our Dom Juan was uniquely challenging.


Over the last fifteen years, Jean Lambert-wild has developed his clown through the Calentures. They are short poetic performances that are absolutely personal to Lambert-wild yet rich in references. They were Gramblanc’s world.



The clown’s first encounter with a classical text, and so with a character taken from the canon, took place when Jean Lambert-wild - who was already working with Lorenzo Malaguerra - created a version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In that show, Gramblanc played Lucky. We know how much Beckett was inspired by circus and especially by clowns. The creative team focused on this dimension and fully developed the circus logic of the text: Vladimir and Estragon are two demoted clowns, called tramps or hobos in English (of which Charlie Chaplin is a tutelar figure). Pozzo is of course the ringmaster, Lucky a white clown who looks like a circus animal. Gramblanc, who is also a clown, started by playing one of the clowns of the canon.


With Richard III, things radically changed. While Jean Lambert-wild can establish deep personal connections with the character (see Richard III diary entry #18), Richard III is not someone who immediately makes one think of a white clown… In the end, Gramblanc brought to light some fascinating aspects of Shakespeare’s hero. The last act in particular was unusually intense. But we followed a singular dramaturgical approach for that show: our adaptation reduced the casting to two characters played by a couple of clowns. We find them backstage in their changing room, getting ready to perform, as if for themselves, their own version of the play. This means that we don’t see the characters “themselves”, according to the usual parameters of theatrical illusion, but two clowns who play the characters of Richard III. In that show, Gramblanc was “playing at” being Richard III more than he was supposed to “be” him.


This time, things are different. Dom Juan is really not a clown, and there is no meta-theatrical distance between Gramblanc and the character he plays. This is a new challenge for us, a challenge that we circumvented in these two earlier shows without having to fully confront it: how can a clown play a canonical character?


What does it means to “play” a character…


We have often talked about this, and all the time that Jean Lambert-wild was exploring the universe of his clown, he developed techniques and styles that, now, can give us tangible, effective answers. These are also coherent with what we know of the history of clowns. While we don’t know how Molière played Dom Juan, we know on the other hand that Dom Juan was a character of Commedia dell’arte. We also know that Grand Siècle’s French actors followed an extremely stylised physicality and scansion. A romantic vision of the character, coupled with the Stanislavski-like psychological approach of the following century, lead us to expect a cinematographic Dom Juan who is played naturalistically. But nothing says we have to conform to this, and everything suggests that this wasn’t the case in the 17th century.


Gramblanc might give us a way of connecting with tradition again and of opening new perspectives. Indeed, clowns work in ways that are the antithesis of the Actor Studio’s dogmas. They are experts in the art of catastrophe, they master effects and extremes and let themselves be inspired by what happens in the moment. They are tireless craftspeople who perfect their turns and their entrances, repeating them in a way that is never the same. They aren’t interested in exploring a character’s psychology, they don’t give in to any magical dimension. They don’t create a character – one doesn’t create one’s clown either – but they take possession of them, in the same way that a clown takes possession of its performer.


At the start of rehearsals, Gramblanc left, fresh and joyful, and took on the challenge of playing Dom Juan. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. There were two obvious risks: first, that Gramblanc wouldn’t immerse himself in Dom Juan and therefore wouldn’t let the character be seen and heard through him. Secondly, that Dom Juan’s mythical force would be such that it imposes itself on Jean Lambert-wild by dominating Gramblanc, which would reduce our endeavour to an essentially traditional performance, whether or not the actor’s face is painted white…


A third risk, which we mentioned in the previous diary entry, appeared during the second rehearsal period: that the clown’s white face would turn Dom Juan into some sort of Nosferatu which would irrepressibly take divert us from our aim.


Because we are aware of what is at stake, and what the potential pitfalls are, we know that only through trial and error will we be able to move forward. Lorenzo Malaguerra plays a decisive part in this process. Jean Lambert-wild suggests things, exploring costumes and make-up options, voices, postures, blocking, intentions, to provide options for Gramblanc. Lorenzo Malaguerra says yes, no, pushes in one direction, holds him back… A dialectical movement unfolds on stage, with no preconceived expectations, but held by a precise framework and with a specific direction. We have to cause a breach in this character, who seems to have to impose himself as if he existed before us, while we know how much he is the product of a story in the making. We need a breach that would allow Gramblanc to enter the fortress and, because he is a clown, turn everything upside down.


Such a breakthrough will come from the use of colour…


In between the second and third rehearsal periods, Jean Lambert-wild let his hair grow back. In itself, this doesn’t change much other than making his face look more affable. But one day, he surprised the whole team by hurtling on stage with red hair!


This changed everything. With white make-up and a clean-shaven head, Gramblanc as Dom Juan looked almost elderly. With white make-up and red hair, it is a youthful energy that comes out of him. It is no longer Nosferatu we see on stage, but some sort of Peter Pan. Gramblanc is finally able to symbiotically blossom with Dom Juan!


Jean Lambert-wild’s posture, the way he walks, his voice, all change noticeably, as well as the way the other actors look at him, of course. Our Dom Juan is no longer an elderly sickly clown, he is now an ebullient inveterate showman, and he fights death with a rage that matches his burning vitality and his desire for power.


This emphasises the tragic dimension of the play, but this feisty blazing-haired white clown impressed us particularly because of what new possibilities he opened. With him, there are unpredictable mood swings, he deepens the relationship with Sganarelle whom we can think grew up with him, and what the other characters’ youth put at stake is multiplied. What was there after the last rehearsals is now stronger, more significant, there is a bigger terrain to play on.


When he is confronted with death, it is made all the more powerful because death takes him while he is full of energy. Dom Juan embodies an unprecedented appetite for life: his constant challenges to the “Skies” resonate particularly strongly, as well as his inextinguishable desire to understand or to always feel the incomparable lightness of seduction.


We know it: Gramblanc has taken possession of Dom Juan, and this means Molière’s play will now be filled with new harmonics.



Carnet de bord #8 > Dom Juan ou Le Festin de pierre > Hélène Cerles, comédienne de la Séquence 9 de L'Académie de l'Union


Having read the plethora of different literary, theatrical and whimsical versions of the myth of Dom Juan, Jean Lambert...