Flip the Script Friday: Avant-Garde French Plays

As usual, I resolved to have read and analyzed a script by today, and as usual, I didn’t quite get there this week. I did, however, find a fantastic book at the back of a shelf in my basement, Modern French Theatre, an anthology of avant-garde, dada, and surrealist plays from 1896-1961. The anthology was translated into English by Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth, and is well worth (what up author pun) a look. Some of the plays I had heard of, like Ubu RoiThe Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, and The Gas Heart, but the rest I hadn’t heard of, so I decided to flip to the middle of the book, read a few of the shorter plays, and see what I could find. If this goes well, perhaps a future post with all the rest of the plays will be in the cards.

First up, A Circus Story by Armand Salacrou.


A Circus Story was written by Armand Salacrou in 1922, and originally in French. It is subtitled a play for reading. According to Wikipedia, Salacrou had a very long life, dying a few months after his 90th birthday in 1989 in Le Havre, France. He was born in Rouen. He started out in advertising, but switched over to playwriting full-time in the 1920s, writing up until the 1960s. There does not seem to be a huge amount of information on him out there, at least in English, other than his plays and the fact that he was president of the Cannes Film Jury in the 1960s, as well as having written several films.


  • The Acrobat (who doesn’t seem to stick around for that long)
  • The Equestrian (a fine lady)
  • The Ringmaster (who has all of one line)
  • The Magician (a magician, who speaks a lot and can be a jerk)
  • The Young Man (seemingly caught up in all this nonsense)
  • Mr. Loyal (a stagehand, or something)
  • First Clown, Second Clown, Third Clown
  • Audience
  • A Juggler (non-speaking, just juggling)
  • A Girl
  • Eight Men in Evening Dress (I’m assuming that refers to evening attire of the time and not actual dresses
  • A Hearse Driver (played by one of the eight men)


Being an absurd, surrealist French play, there’s not too much to grab onto for the uninformed. Suffice it to say, it happens at a circus, the Acrobat dies in an accident, the Young Man has the hots for the Equestrian, the Magician gets in his way and the Equestrian is kind of bitchy to him until he attracts the attention of A Girl, who, upon approaching him, doesn’t think he’s as attractive up close. So he goes back to the Equestrian, then Mr. Loyal comes back with a Hearse Driver, and they drive around and the circus disappears except for the Young Man, and then some snow falls and children run on and pelt the sad sack with snowballs, laughing.

My Thoughts

It seems like a dream, not entirely pleasant but not entirely unpleasant either. There’s some fun imagery, and skeletons of wreaths, and it’s not like anything I’m familiar with. Well…avant-garde, go figure. Curiously, it’s titled “a play for reading,” despite elaborate stage directions involving trapezes, high wires, and body-bending.

How I’d Flip It

Being “a play for reading,” it might be interesting to set it up initially as a music stand read in a black box, and then have wacky things going on behind the readers (or reader), in a sort of pantomime.

Next up is a piece entitled en gggarrrde! by Rene Daumal.


en gggarrrde! (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) was written by Rene Daumal in 1924. Also originally in French. According to Wikipedia, Daumal was born in Boulzicourt, Ardennes in 1908 and died in Paris in 1944, at the age of 36, from tuberculosis (and probably drug use as well). He started his career as a poet, first published as a teenager. Even though he lived a short life, he was very accomplished: he wrote an allegorical novel called A Night of Serious Drinking, translated spiritual texts into French from Sanskrit and Japanese (all self taught), and was in the middle of writing a second novel, Mount Analogue, when he died. He is considered to be an early influence of ‘pataphysics.

Characters (parentheses are my notes)

  • Mygraine, a woman in a hennin (pointy hat)
  • Napoleon, Napoleon (his words, not mine)
  • A Toothbrush (probably my favorite character in the play)
  • Bubu, a little angel
  • Ursule, a depraved young thing
  • Some Snails
  • A Cigar, pure Havana
  • A Leech
  • A Sociologist
  • A Pernod with Sugar (it’s a drink)
  • Cleopatra, a person not to fool around with (something tells me he had a sister)
  • The Author, me.


Somewhere. Something happens. At one point they’re inside a snail shell, then on a raft, then nowhere really. At the end, a father says to his son, “Let that teach you, Arthur, to always follow the right road.” Drugs are bad, kids.

The Best Line in the Play

THE TOOTHBRUSH (parading her dignity): Vive le France! (She sinks).

And that’s all she says.

How I’d Flip It

Definitely index cards taped to foreheads and cardboard cutouts.