Francoise changes her mind
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 10, 2005
Francoise changes her mind, a new play written and directed by Robert Honeywell, is about a man, Paul, and a woman, Francoise, and the odd course of their nascent relationship. It starts out winningly in a Starbucksy coffee shop where each of them is alone, ostensibly reading (she's studying something in a notebook, he's flipping through Sexuality in the Movies) but actually trying to negotiate a first meeting with the other. He peers over the top of his book, then strolls over to her table where, suddenly self-conscious, he picks up a piece of trash on the floor with pretend purposefulness. Then she checks to see if the coast is clear, drops her pen, and accepts it from him when he hesitantly retrieves it. It's a classic "meet cute" but it's a great hook, especially as staged here by Honeywell in a series of charming, economical blackouts.
The next segment of our story proceeds in similar fashion, as the two spend more time together. The progress of the courtship is almost cinematic, with quick cuts from a park where Paul is incongruously blowing bubbles to a bar where they dance and have too much to drink to a showing of Jules et Jim at the Film Forum. They learn little bits about each other: he tells her that he fears tedium more than anything, offering as an example being stuck in the middle of reading Remembrance of Things Past. She reveals that at one time she wanted to be a nun, and is now a graduate student in a religious studies program. (Interestingly, we never find out what Paul does for a living.) The stuff they tell about themselves belies what we observe, for he seems like a buttoned-up slave to structure while she comes across as a wackier free spirit; and what happens next comes at us almost out of nowhere, subverting the chipper Barefoot in the Park-style romance that's been playing out thus far.
What happens, briefly, is that Paul and Francoise wind up in a bathtub, in their underwear, taking turns tying each other up and reading religious literature aloud. During this long scene, which encompasses at least half of the play's running time, the lovers vex, tease, and torture each other with favorite passages from the Bible, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, and other texts; they also engage in monologues about the nature of God, freedom, desire, and similar weighty subjects. Much of what they say is interesting and provocative, but the bondage/bathtub kinkiness undercuts it: the effect for me was not of being disturbed or riled up, but confused.
Peter Bean underplays likeably as Paul, while Celia Montgomery delivers what seemed like excessive intensity as Francoise. Jana Zenadeen, playing a host of phantom figures in several fantasy interludes, is consistently fine.
I suspect that Honeywell intends his play to be less serious than it feels here: I think Francoise is meant to be a tour through, as the press release has it, "God's greatest hits" rather than the scary cautionary tale about fanaticism that it ultimately becomes in this production. Nevertheless, Francoise dips into issues that are generally taboo in contemporary discourse, for which it earns my admiration; it certainly tackles the moral values that this festival trades in with a vigor rarely encountered in the theatre.