This group is for members of Ryan Donovan’s discussion sections in Hunter College’s Spring 2015 Introduction to Theatre course.
Les Miserables (Review)
- March 23, 2015 at 10:31 am #1852
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo: performance reflection
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, is a beautifully written work that tells the story of a group of characters from different generations, living in Paris during the times of the French revolution in the 1800’s. Its main character is Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, who was kept under arrest for 19 years because he stole a loaf of bread for his sister and nephew who were suffering from starvation. Jean Valjean was freed by the inspector Javert, to complete an unknown amount of time under his parole which warned that he was a dangerous man.
After being “freed” he tried to get a job, but his parole didn’t allow him to go back to a normal life. He was homeless and hungry, when he got to a church where a monsignor gave him shelter and food. Jean Valjean, desperate for money, stole almost all the church’s silver, and ran away with it, getting caught by the authorities and being took back to the monsignor, who forgave him and told him to keep all the silver, but to do good and become a better man. There is when prisoner 24601 broke his parole and became a different person, who owned a factory and became mayor of the city. Proceeding this event the play begin with the portrayal of diverse scenarios that bring to life the characters’ as Fantine, Cossete and Marius with their unique life situations.
The performance came to life in the Imperial Theater in Manhattan, in very intimate atmosphere. A diverse audience went to watch the beautiful performance, to be witness of such a delightful experience that awaited to be shared with the spectator. The show began and the first thing that came to my mind when looking at the stage was the sensation of being in a movie theatre watching a movie. The costumes and makeup were very detailed and complex, just like the action itself which was carefully choreographed, and synchronized with the speech, and the music.
In the play, there’s two points that caught my attention and changed my point of view about certain aspects that are implied during the action. The first moment is when the scene that involves the character of Fantine comes to stage. Fantine was an employee in the factory that Jean Valjean opened after his change of identity. She had a daughter, Cossete, who was living with two innkeepers who she used to send money to so they would take good care of her daughter, because Fantine wasn’t able to have her in a safe place after the father ran away leaving them without a penny. Despite the fact that she was a single mom, her character was very pure and conservative, and she kept her daughter as a secret. When Fantine’s secret was revealed in the factory, she tried to cover it but her coworkers got her in trouble and getting her unfairly fired.
After that event of her life she went through several struggles to get money for her little girl. She sold all she had so she would be able to cover some debts, and forced by the situation she became a prostitute. As consequence of the “hell she was living” in the streets, the mistreatment and malnourishment, she got terribly sick. She was found by Jean Valjean when she was about to get arrested after she denied to sleep with some man, who said to the inspector Javert that she tried to attack him. She blamed Jean Valjean for being kicked out of the factory he owned in the first place, then he realized all the bad that that had done to her and he took her to the hospital and promised her to look for Cossete and take good care of her. Fantine died shortly after he rescued her from the streets, and his trip after Cosset began. What impacted me the most about Fantine’s story is the poor value that women had back then, and the uneducated taboos that people had. Mistreatments towards women were well accepted, and things that would be completely normal nowadays, were ridiculously criticized and discriminated, such as being a single mother. Then men never took responsibility for none of the things they did to woman, plus they played the “victim” to each situation that involved, for example, a “lovely lady” (a prostitute).
Moreover, the second point that I want to highlight is about the obsessive persecution that Inspector Javert had after prisoner 24601. Why someone would be so obsessed with someone who decided to change his life for the good of others, not only his? Inspector Javert was quite insistent on finding a reason to trap prisoner 24601 back, even after all the good the he did to his community, and the fact that Jean Valjean forgave him and set him free after pretending to have killed him to gain the trust of the men in the barricades. Even after that he was still insisting that he must arrest him or kill him, resulting unsuccessful. I assume that Inspector Javert was raised in a very conservative family were he was taught that the law was the law no matter what human feelings invaded his heart, so as his mind was changing because of Jean Valjean good actions, and a feeling of pity for prisoner 24601 was present, he felt like he was the one infringing on the law and couldn’t stand that both of them were living simultaneously, so he ended up deciding to commit suicide because there was no fault to be blamed on Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601.
At the end of it all, Les Miserables moved me in a way that no movie or any other type of production has in a long time. The actors, the production combined with the elements of theatre worked harmoniously together to tell the tale of how we can never forget where we came from in our journeys to become better men and women. Indeed “look down!” and give a standing ovation to the hard working cast of the Imperial Theatre. No doubt this won’t be my last Broadway experience to come.
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