In April and May of the year 1940 Edith Piaf performed in a one act play written especially for her by Jean Cocteau at the Theatre des Bouffes-Parisiens. The play was called Le Bel Indifferent where Piaf is the only actor of two with any dialog. In fact, it is like one long monologue. The other actor, Piaf's character's boyfriend (the indifferent lover), played by her then real life off-stage lover, actor Paul Meurisse, has the simplest role to play in the stage drama. He spends the entire play in silence lying on the bed "reading" a newspaper. Eventually he gets up and leaves the apartment without saying a word Piaf. The silence drives Piaf's character crazy. His indifference infuriates her. She rants and raves and cries and screams but receives not one reaction. Oh, how close this was to real life for this stage couple! In Edith Piaf's autobiography "My Life" she talks about her relationship with Meurisse and how his blazé demeanor made her feel unloved. She would taunt him with terrible public outbursts of rage and jealousy just to solicit some kind of emotion. She admits she was not proud of these moments. Cocteau must have known the couple very well. His play could have served as a sort of couples therapy, but alas, it proved to be more of a crystal ball to imminent disaster.
When I first heard of the play, it was in a documentary about Piaf's life. There was a brief clip of the play. Piaf was brilliant, of course, and so was the set design. It looked like a 2-dimensional black and white illustration typical of the era. The kind you might see on the drafting table of an inker at Warner Brothers working out the background for a Road Runner episode. It was my inspiration for the set design for Piaf: Love Conquers All.
The first time I produced the show at the Fringe Festival in Toronto, I bought old pieces of furniture and props at the Goodwill and painted them white then added the black line accents. When I prepared for the tour of 2006, I made a little maquette of the set and handed it over to a very competent carpenter, and he made me a life sized version! That set traveled to New York, South Carolina, New Jersey, Montreal and Ottawa when I put it in storage. I think it is still there! When I did the show in the Philippines, I sent over detailed photos and measurements of the set and they built an entirely new one for the three shows I did there! Amazing! Who knows what the set pieces are being used for today!
When the show toured British Columbia, the photos were again sent to a very capable carpenter, Derek Emmerson, my dad! He had the added task of making the set pieces collapsible in order to cheaply ship them back to where I was living and then to anywhere else I may do the show in the future! And that future was San Francisco (the whole thing fit in the back of a Prius) and now Las Vegas! This past weekend I opened the boxes and assembled the furniture! Easy Peasy! Watch the process below!
Naomi Emmerson star of Piaf Love Conquers All - the one woman musical about legendary French singer Edith Piaf. She has performed over 200 times for audiences across Canada and the USA and once in Indonesia. The set and costumes are also her creation. Naomi grew up in Montreal Quebec in an anglophone family. She went to French school from 2nd to 6th grade. She loves brie, baguettes and makes a mean crepe Nelson (apple,bacon,sharp cheddar and maple syrup)