Closing this weekend in New York City is Storm Theatres production of Noon Divide , the final installment of their Paul Claudel Project at the Theatre of the Church of Notre Dame. Storm Theatre (particularly their artistic director Peter Dobbins) is to be commended for tackling such a difficult and ambitious project. Claudel, a renowned but sadly neglected French playwright, did not pen easy material.
Rich in dramatic content and written in beautifully dense poetry, his plays explore deeply personal and difficult matters on a grand scale. Mans relationship with both the human and the divine are explored in intimate detail, and when it works, it works beautifully. Noon Divide might be the weakest of the three plays Storm has tackled ( Tidings Brought to Mary and The Satin Slipper were produced in previous seasons), but the material is still sensitively and thoughtfully treated, with wonderfully comic moments sprinkled among the sometimes stagnant soul-searching with which Claudel challenges the actors and directors.
In Noon Divide , Claudel sought to make the previously epic themes explored in The Satin Slipper more intimate. But while he places his characters on a ship heading toward China at the break of the Boxer Rebellion, this dramatic context is no more than a reference point for the audience. The choice could have been an effective one, exploring how the intimate moments of humanity can be as dramatic and life-changing as the external drama the world often provides, but Claudels decision to have the plot advance between the acts instead of during them creates a static aura that can be difficult for actors and directors to animate.
The play is well worth seeing despite these challenges. As always, the basement of the Theatre of the Church of Notre Dame is beautifully transformed into an intimate playing space, and the design elements of the production greatly add to its artistic merit. Chris Kipiniak, who plays Amalric, brings a vibrant and restless energy to the stage. Confident, brash and smug, Kipiniak creates the quintessential Man-of-the-Moment character, always wanting more than what he has. Peter Dobbins (who both acts in and codirects the production) gives Mesa, who is based on Claudel himself, the appropriate mix of intellectual severity, awkward shyness, and hidden yearning.
The final two showings of Noon Divide are this Friday, November 19 and Saturday, November 20, both at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.smarttix.com and the Theatre of the Church of Notre Dame is located 405 W. 114th St. at the corner of Morningside Drive.
Monica R. Weigel recently received her MA in educational theatre from New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.