Independent Players brings ‘The Waltz of the Toreadors’ to the Elgin stage

Independent Players is marking its 47th season by introducing its audience to plays by exceptional French playwrights of the 20th century.

Performances of Jean Anouilh’s “The Waltz of the Toreadors” continue at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 17, at the Elgin Art Showcase, eighth floor of the Professional Building, 164 Division St. Tickets are $20 or $15 for seniors and students. It is available at the door, cash or check only; Call (847) 697-7374 for reservations. Visit

Audiences may be familiar with Anouilh’s “Antigone,” “Eurydice” and “Romeo and Juliet,” which are the author’s best known and most often-produced plays. “Toreadors” is one of his most humorous plays and represents the later part of his writing career (1952) when his plays are more seriously humorous because he employs clever word play for a more serious tone. He is one of France’s most esteemed playwrights, and (this play) “deals with themes of maintaining integrity in a world of moral compromise.”

Written in the 1950s, this play is one which features middle age characters who view life more practically than many of his earlier idealistic heroes (Romeo, Antigone and Eurydice for example) do. This is an extraordinary work, claimed T.C. Worsley in The New Statesman: “It is at the same time wildly comical and savagely cruel. It moves with a virtuoso’s freedom up and down the emotional scale from pure farce at one extreme to real pathos at the other. There are scenes of pure horror and there are scenes of pure comedy, and M. Anouilh modulates between them with an absolute sure touch.”

General Leon Saint-Pe is a character in the author’s earlier play “Ardele,” but interestingly, in “Toreadors,” he has become more cynical than before because he has aged significantly. In “The Waltz of the Toreadors,” he attempts a reunion with a woman who crossed his path 17 years earlier. During the years following, he has had several more close encounters with Ghislaine, but has thus far resisted the temptation to leave his wife, Amelie. When she arrives at long last to claim the General as her own, Ghislaine confronts him with purported evidence of his wife’s infidelity.

After much slapstick and stage business, the charges turn out to be true, but by that time, Ghislaine has fallen irretrievably in love with Gaston, the General’s painfully shy male secretary.

By the final curtain, four of the characters have threatened or “attempted” suicide, yet all remain alive to contemplate a future fraught with compromise and disillusionment.

As he does in “Ardele,” in “Waltz of the Toreadors,” Anouilh avoids bathos (anticlimax; sentimentality) through the judicious use of caricature; here, however, both the General and his ostensibly insane wife emerge as more fully rounded and therefore credible characters. The General, a very much weathered version of Anouilh’s post Romantic heroes, elicits the spectator’s sympathy as he wonders precisely what has gone wrong in his life, where and when.

His wife, Emily, equally credible, has chosen to express her love through jealousy, feigning invalidism for more than a decade in order to keep her basically compassionate husband from deserting her. Grim and unrelenting in its satire of contemporary marriage and morals, “The Waltz of the Toreadors” is, nevertheless, highly delightful.

The production is being directed by IP’s artistic director, Don Haefliger. The cast consists of many of the actors who have graced the IP stage in recent years and gave us many wonderful productions.

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