Gjilan City Theatre, premiere 11th May 2021
The title of The Truth, the 2016 play by internationally renowned French playwright Florian Zeller, is ironic. It is a play about marital infidelity. It revolves around two couples. Laura and Michel have been married for 20 years and have a daughter, Alice and Paul have also been married for some time. Though Michel and Paul are lifelong best friends, they are also having affairs with each other’s wives.
Directed by Agon Myftari, the play has been adapted for an Albanian audience, with local expressions and everyday language, but the characters still inhabit Paris, with scenes taking place in hotel rooms, living rooms and on the tennis court (this last one the site of an epic scene between the two male best friends).
The adaptation, as a whole, felt wonderfully integrated, weaving together comedy with the bitter themes of the play, and the transitions between scenes are well handled by Myftari’s direction.
The Truth depicts the hoops one has to jump through to keep an affair hidden from a husband or a wife. It explores the hypocrisy of a society, where not being sincere with one another has become a societal norm. The plotline might seem superficial, but the play contains layers. It brings to surface a topic that is still taboo, even though many people lead these kind of double lives, where no one is concerned with how unhealthy this might be in the long term. At one point, one of the characters says “We are living in a permanent lie.” They then start questioning the definition of a lie, each giving their own explanation of the word itself.
The Truth presents a society in which double standards dominate. The characters believe that revealing the truth to one another would be hurtful, so living a lie is more comforting – as long as nobody finds out. Alice and Michel will continue to meet in random hotels.
It is Alice’s (Tringa Hasani) conscience that makes her tell her husband about her six-month affair with his best friend, only to make a surprising revelation about what is going on between her jobless husband and the wife of her lover. In her performance as Alice, Hasani perfectly captures her shock and confusion and portrays her inner state to the audience.
The plot of Zeller’s play takes many twists and turns, so that the audience must put together the missing pieces of the puzzles. The play leaves this for the audience to sort out. The play’s strongest scene takes place on the tennis court. Following their match, Kushtrim Qerimi, as Michela and Avni Shkodra, as Paul, start discussing which one of the two is a better tennis player. It’s a hilarious scene, so much so that Shkodra, playing the impassive Paul, chuckles a little with his fellow actor Qerimi. It must be hard to keep a straight face when the audience are weeping with laughter because of your performance.
Being “a good player” is clearly a metaphor for manhood in their marriages, with each of them questioning their sexual prowess in bed, and asking which one of them is better.
They both doubt themselves as they both fully associate their worth within marriage with their ability to win the game. None of the characters seem to have control of their own life; none of them seem to know themselves. They are just trying to fill the void with temporary pleasure, not caring about morality let alone hurting each other’s feelings. It is as if they have become numb when it comes to their emotional lives.
This makes the play sound bleak, but it is often very funny. When Qerimi pretends to be Alice’s aunt on a phone call with Paul, his intentionally exaggerated performance of his character attempting to act is hilarious. The play is full of moments that fill the audience with the catharsis the comedy.
As the play progresses, it turns out the two best friends are both pretending not to be good at tennis. They let each other win deliberately, as a form of expressing their guilt for sleeping with each other’s wives. The question is who started first?
When Paul opens his heart to tell Michel that he suspects his wife is cheating on him, Michel advises his friend not to confront “the brat” that his wife is dating, but to continue living his life that way, since at some point Alice will have enough of the affair and she will return to Paul again. The hypocritical Michel keeps preaching about ethics and morals, but at the same time he is the one insisting to both Alice and Paul to conceal the truth. He is the one who gets lied to the most in the end. This is one of the strengths of the play. It highlights the irony that those who think they are deceiving others are often the most clueless about their surroundings and usually the ones who get deceived the most.
Author: Florian Zeller//Director: Agon Myftari//Translator:Shkelzen Berisha
Cast: Kushtrim Qerimi, Safete Mustafa Baftiu, Avni Shkodra, Tringa Hasani
Further reading: review of Arbri at Teatri ODA