Yasmina Reza Essay - Critical Essays


Although Parisian critics once compared Yasmina Reza’s plays to works by Arthur Schnitzler, Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter, and Nathalie Sarraute, they are not modish or derivative either in form or content. Most of them use autobiographical material as they focus on facets of real life, from family relationships to male friendships, disillusionment, love, and betrayal. Compact in length and shape, they are unspectacular on the surface and linger in silences and inarticulate feelings to reveal what often lies beneath the ripples of daily existence. Some critics have labeled her plays “middlebrow entertainments,” which is not a term of endearment to the French intellectual elite.

Reza’s serious side is attracted to the ways in which people are abandoned in life, daily, by someone or something. The playwright has remarked: “I think that moving through life means being abandoned and abandoning. I have a lot of sympathy for those who are alone. I understand them. I feel very alone although I am not the slightest bit alone.” However, she balances this seriousness by a wry wit that helps keep serious subjects light enough for broad appeal. This is not to say that her plays are merely funny even when their wit flashes forth. Rather, it is to say that their wry comedy indicates an intelligence that is alert to the foibles and follies of the human condition.

Conversations After a Burial

Set on a family property in the Loiret region, this intimate drama opens in flashback on a November noon with a man pouring earth onto his father’s coffin. However, death is not the true subject; it is the shadow within which mourning isolates six characters. The three men and three women in the story seem to be enjoying the last moments of a summer holiday, but the play proceeds to expose family conflicts and regrets, as well as the savagery and comedy of love and its betrayals. Although all six characters are essential to the unfolding drama, the focal ones are Edith and her two brothers, Alex and Nathan. Alex’s former mistress, Elise, whom he has not seen for three years, shows up unexpectedly at the funeral. Her motive is simple respect for bourgeois convention, but her appearance provokes unsettling moments. Nathan, who, unlike his brother, has loving memories of his deceased father, has sex with Elise over his father’s grave, and Edith confronts him about this, turning hysterically abusive toward Elise, who becomes distraught. In the process, Nathan reveals a dark secret about their father, who, he suggests, might have had an affair with his chiropodist. However, the issue is left ambiguously unclear, just as is the case with the intimacy of all the characters, though the ending is not very effective in dramatic terms.

The Unexpected Man

Maintaining an intimate tone (as in her first play), Reza sets this comedy-drama in a train compartment in which two strangers sit across from each other on the way from Paris to Frankfurt. The play unfolds as a series of...

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