Le Fromage de Mon Oncle
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 15, 2004
Short on words but long on humor, Le Fromage de Mon Oncle, a one-act entertainment written and directed by Joel Jeske, captures the essence of life in small moments. In keeping with the mime tradition, the characters appear in white face, wandering haplessly through episodes, meeting passion and catastrophe alike, and providing plenty of laughs along the way. It is in the tradition of Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Tati’s M. Hulot, the latter of whom provides the inspiration for this piece.
This delightful philosophical pursuit begins when Uncle, played expertly by Jeske, realizes there is no cheese for his meal. He decides to go to the corner store to purchase some. Along the way, he encounters some of the little adventures that constitute his life, each with idiosyncrasies that make ordinary experiences unique. He witnesses a young girl’s loss of faith, the ecstasy of eating a rich dessert, a prostitute playing an accordion, an unorthodox puppet show, and a cat’s funeral. All of this is under the watchful eye of a dead ancestor (Justin Herfel, who manages to make himself appear wonderfully two-dimensional behind a picture frame) who narrates—in French, with some translation "for those Americans who have yet to learn the language." He is the only one in this American cast, I am told, who speaks French.
Initially, Herfel sits on stage enframed, as Jeske and various other characters played by Laura Dillman and Juliet Schaefer-Jeske (both trained as classical singers and as clowns), introduce themselves by emerging from behind a screen draped neatly in French-style curtains. They eye the audience cautiously before disappearing behind the screen where all costume changes take place. Dillman delivers superb blank expressions whenever they are needed and Schaefer-Jeske instills warm naivete in her clown, child, and American traveler.
The simple, intimate set (Jeske and Schaefer-Jeske) complements the poignant, Gallic feeling. The music confirms that Jeske has done his research thoroughly—everything from Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker to a period "La Marseillaise"—and it sets the mood so perfectly I found myself wanting to know more about it. Costume design by Schaefer-Jeske maintains the flavor of this funny French truffle. Don’t miss it.