" FROU-FROU " AT THE GAIETY THEATRE.
GILBERTE, the fascinating heroine of the cleverest of the numerous dramatic works of MM. Meilhac and Halevy, must always be associated with the acting of Madlle. Desch%
in the memory of those who witnessed that great actress's per- formance of the part. She had the supreme advantage over all competitors that the piece was written for her (just as Madame Arnould-Plessy had the supreme advantage over all competitors that L'Aventuriere was written for her), and none who saw her can have forgotten the peculiar charm, the bird-like, soulless gaiety she threw into her acting, the rippling laughter, the buoyant restlessness, the bubbling-up petulance, the extra- ordinary suppleness, and the swift, poignant change to a help- less grief, like the pitiful pain of a lost child. When, in the fourth act, she was left alone, after she had answered her faithful servant's inquiry about the forsaken child ; and, look- ing with a stupid sort of wonder all around her, she said,
"Une heure de colere, et voila, oii j'eu suis arrive ! Ah ! enfiu, ii n'est plus temps maintenant !"—who ever heard her utter
those words without a pang of unreasonable, irresistible pity ? Her Frou-frou was a butterfly broken on a wheel, the Fron- fron of the author's intention, and the expectation of the audi- ence, the realisation of the description of Gilberto, given by
M. de Valreas, the rejected lover of the first act, himself a kind of male butterfly, in the fourth act spitted on the sword
of the injured husband. In that admirable little bit of dialogue is the essence of the character, and the clue to the play. Says Gilberte to M. de Valreas :—
"Gil. Je woos defends de m'appeler Frou-frou.'
Vol. Puisque c'est votre nom.
Gil. C'est mon nom pour papa, c'est mon nom pour ma wear Louise, male pas pour von& Vol. Si, pour moi aussi, pour moi. De qua nom roue appellerai- je, qui, mieux quo celui-la, convienne 1 la delicieuse petite personno pour laquelle it semble avoir ete invente ? N'estece pas vans tout entiere,—' Frou-frou ?' Use poste qui s'ouvre, et tout le long do Vesealier un bruit de japes qui glisae et descend comme an tour- billon,—' Frou-fron !' Vous entre; tournes, cherches, furet,es, ranges, deranges, bavardez, boucles, ries, parlez, cbantez, pianotez, sautes, dansez, et vous voile en idles, Frou-frou,' toujoursFron-frou ;'oLlee anis bien sdr que, pendant quo vous dormez, range qui vous g agite doncoment sea Riles, avec co joli bruit :—' Frou-frou!' " The Gilberte of Madlle. Bernhardt, while in some respects a clever performance, is not to be compared with that of
Desclee in the essentially characteristic portions of the r6le. The definition of " Frou-frou " by M. de Valreas is wholly
inapplicable to the languid, intent - browed, slow - moving, heavy-lidded woman, who never for a moment suggests girlish- ness, either by her manner, her expression, or her elaborate long- trained costumes, and never looks less girl-like than when she makes her first entry, in a very ugly grey riding-habit and long boots, after she has beaten M. de Valreas in a race. In the earlier scenes, Madlle. Bernhardt exhibits a great deal too much character, and of the wrong kind; she is too know- ing in the dialogue with her father, a witty but immoral part on of the play, in which Demi& was admirably con- sistent, at once with the wilfulness of Frou-frou, and the real innocence that underlies it and makes her sudden plunge into ruin under the influence of anger and jealousy so pitiable. Madlle. Bernhardt is too strong throughout to be either governed, persuaded, deceived, or set aside, as Gilberto is, by all the persons who have her destiny in their hands. Her dissolute father, and her good, common-place sister Louise, herself in love with Sartorys, persuade Gilberte to accept him, and Louise wards off her suspicions with the shallowest ease. The coquettish Baronne de Cambri, whose husband jokes with his wife's admirers about their vain attempts on his and her honour ; the over-indulgent Sartorys, who indulges and despises Frou- frou, and lets her sister manage him, his house, his child, and his affairs, and who, when his wife is aroused to the reality and the peril of the position, pooh-poohs her, and so drives her into the paroxysm of rage in which she wrecks their lives by going off with De Valreas,—are perfectly consistent in char- acter and situation with the Frou-frou of the piece. But they are entirely inconsistent with the Gilberte of Madlle. Bernhardt; and it is therefore not until the description of M. de Valreas ceases to be applicable to Gilberte,—until, in fact, Frou-frou is no longer Frou-frou, but a terrified or a despairing woman, that the sympathies of the audience are aroused by the actress. From that moment she holds them. Her acting is very good in the scene with Louise, when she overwhelms her with a torrent of passion, during which her speech is amazingly rapid, yet distinct, and rushes off with the terrible words," Mari, enfant, tn m'as tout pris ; c'est bien, garde tout !"—in the scene with Sartorys, when he seeks her in Venice to restore her fortune, and tells her he has come to kill Valreas, or be killed by him ; and in the sad scene at the close, when she dies, once more -under her husband's roof,—" chez moi," as she says, with a touch of relief wonderfully affecting, and a revival of the old nature in her, under the influence of pardon and peace, in her last words, ""Tons me pardonnez, n'est-ce pas, pauvre PAM- fi'0 it !"
In one instance Madlle. Bernhardt carries us away for a moment into forgetting that it is acting. That is when, in the fourth act, she realises that the lives of two men are at stake and forfeit for her fault. Although she renders this great point otherwise than Desclee rendered it, whose broken, childish, amazed, humble, entreating anguish was almost unendurable; her fervent remonstrance, her desperate resistance, are very fine indeed, and especially her utterance of " Vous battre ! cause de moi. Deux hommes a'entretner,—a cause de ma, Frou-frou! Est-ee clue cela est possible Songez, done,
Frou-frou! des fetes, des chiffons,—toute ma vie eta% lit C'est pour relit que j'etais faite, pour cela seulement Un homme pour vous se battre a cause d'une femme comme moi !" The effect of this is admirable, and as the scene in- creases in intensity the actress rises to it ; until, when she flings herself upon Sartorys' breast, and clings to him with clasping arms and interlaced fingers, with such real passion and energy that it is no feigned effort by which he wrenches himself away from her, the illusion of the performance is perfect.
Madlle. Bernhardt is very fairly supported. M. Dieudonne is much better as Brigard, the dissolute father of Gilberte and Louise, with a risque role, and some compensatory final penit- ence, than as the Abbe, who does the more refined scoundrelism of Scibe and Legouves Adrienne Lecouvreur. M. Train acts the somewhat contemptible Sartorys fairly, and M. Pierre Berton is an admirable Valreas. No actor can present better than he the peculiarly difficult role of the French stage-lover, who has to be at once profoundly respectful and irre- sistibly passionate. M. Pierre Berton is especially successful in his representation of the camaraderie between Valreas and Brigard ; by the delicate humour of his acting, he carries off the real offensiveness of the relations between himself and the father of the girl whom he wants to marry, and in the last scene in which he appears, the delicacy and tenderness of his painfully-concealed emotion, when he leaves the unconscious Gilberte, shrinking from her prettily-uttered "A toute is rheum !" are of high excellence.
It is likely that Madlle. Bernhardt's Gilberte will improve by practice ; she can hardly fail to recognise that she is far from having conquered the difficulties, or seized upon the complete- ness of the role. We do not know how such an alteration would affect a Parisian audience, but it might be worth Madlle. Bern- hardt's while to consider that she is now acting to English play- goers, and to modify a little her oppressive costumes. Frou-frou, her charms, her griefs, and her punishment are almost obliterated by Gilberte's gowns, and the most patient and interested audience that ever sat at a play (at least in London) must grow weary of the endless length of the entr'actes. The thread of the story is lost, the effects are weakened, while people sit fidgetting and yawning in order that Madlle. Bernhardt's dressers may have time to smother her in cascades of silk (which does not frou-frou-er), clouds of lace, and bales of beads. These outrageously extrava- gant dresses are totally incongruous with her position, in the first act, as an unmarried girl, and all through with the shabby mounting of the piece. Fron-fron in cut velvet and gorgeous lace complacently beholds her husband, her sister, and her child sitting down at a side-table, to a banquet served on a tea-tray, and whose component parts are one covered dish and a black bottle. "Avant de partir, il faut que je vous installe," she says, trailing her train about the table, and surveying the tin cover and the black bottle. " Vous etes charmants ainsi." Then she kisses her finger-tips, and goes off to her performance of Indiana. This scene comes dangerously near the ludicrous, thanks to the tea-tray ; and the same sumptuous provision for a "square meal" makes its appearance in the Venetian palace of the fourth act !