(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/17; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — Two related scenes are currently playing out in theaters here. In “Les Idoles” (“The Idols”), at the Odéon — Théâtre de l’Europe, the actress Marina Foïs recounts in detail the death of the philosopher Michel Foucault, in 1984, of an AIDS-related illness. At the Espace Cardin, Foucault’s homosexuality is seen through the eyes of his first biographer, the sociologist Didier Eribon, in “Retour à Reims” (“Returning to Reims”).

In both productions, prominent French gay artists reclaim their pasts with striking honesty. “Retour à Reims,” staged by the German director Thomas Ostermeier, is based on Mr. Eribon’s 2009 memoir-cum-essay about his working-class roots, while the writer and director Christophe Honoré looks back at the artistic heroes — those “idols” — he lost to AIDS in his youth.

Mr. Honoré may be better known for films including “Love Songs,” but his theater work is in some ways more ambitious and original. His recent plays have brought real individuals back to life and imagined, with the benefit of hindsight, how they might have interacted: “Nouveau Roman,” in 2012, focused on the 20th-century French literary movement of the same name; “Les Idoles” brings together six writers and filmmakers who died between 1989 and 1994.

Extensive research clearly went into the play, but Mr. Honoré doesn’t strive for truthfulness. He isn’t preoccupied with physical likeness, for starters, and regularly casts women in male roles onstage. In “Les Idoles,” Ms. Foïs plays Hervé Guibert, whose autobiographical novel “To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” evoked Foucault’s last days, while the part of the filmmaker Jacques Demy is taken with gusto by Marlène Saldana, in a fur coat and heels.ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the characters in “Les Idoles” enjoy more public recognition than others. Mr. Demy is one of them, and the playwrights Jean-Luc Lagarce and Bernard-Marie Koltès are both revered names on the French stage. A creation about them might easily have turned into a series of reverential obituaries, but Mr. Honoré gives “Les Idoles” a welcome lightness of touch.

The men are portrayed as witty, imperfect individuals rather than austere icons to be worshiped. They are as likely to launch into a dance number as they are to debate the attributes of the ideal lover: Ms. Saldana’s rendition of “Chanson d’un jour d’été,” from Mr. Demy’s musical film “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” is an unlikely highlight.

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Photo: From left, Marina Foïs, Youssouf Abi-Ayad and Marlène Saldana in “Les Idoles” at the Odéon — Théâtre de l’Europe.CreditCreditJean-Louis Fernandez

 

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