Proust, the Musical (sort of)

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As “Souvenir” opens, the play’s author, the actor Bush Moukarzel, is running on a treadmill, around him the stage cluttered with books and storage boxes. A goldfish swims lazily in a bowl and nearby sand falls through an hourglass. On one wall, there’s a blackboard and on another a large image of Marcel Proust.

It was Proust’s novel, the seven-volume, “Remembrance of Things Past” that moved Moukarzel to write the hour-long, rambunctious musical play and to explore the meaning of Proust’s maxim, “It’s better to dream your life than to live it.”

Presented by Ireland’s celebrated young company, Dead Centre, in its US debut, and directed by Ben Kidd, it opens at the Abrons Arts Center on November 14, the centennial of the publication Proust’s great tome, and runs through November 23. Offering Proust lovers and those who have never read a word of his, a lot to think and smile about, Moukarzel, both as himself and the narrator Marcel, invites audiences to join him in his Proust-fueled fantasy, as he delves into the novel’s complexity. “I want to catch people off guard,” he told “French Morning” recently. “Just the sheer perversity of condensing it, appealed to me, the cheekiness.”

In the “Irish Times,” on its premiere in 2012, critic Peter Crawley wrote, “Long after the short performance finished its meanings were still unfurling, the substance behind its comedy gradually revealed. He certainly gives you something to remember him by. Proust would approve.”

A successful theater and television actor, Moukarzel started thinking about writing a play about Proust after he finished reading the complete “Remembrance of Things Past.” “I wanted something out of it,” he says, “you know, like a badge. Then, I had the incentive to shape it into theater. I felt I had the license since hardly anyone reads it; I’d have freedom to do what I want.”

So, indifferent to incongruities, he uses mobile phones, “Iron Man” and Beyonce as reference points, as well as real characters from the novel, such as the narrator’s mother and the love of his life, Albertine, who is the backbone of the story. “I didn’t want to have loads of characters, and that kind of hyper energy. I wanted to streamline the narrative, and to some degree, tell the story through images, like the treadmill, a man running and going nowhere. I start and finish the play there, quite knackered. It seemed rather Proustian to me, not being able to beat time.”

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