Reza, Yasmina 1959-
REZA, Yasmina 1959-
PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1959, in France; daughter of a businessman and a violinist; married Didier Martin (a director); children: one daughter and one son. Education: Studied at Paris X University, Paris, France, and the Jacques Lecoq Drama School.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Casarotto Ramsay and Associates Ltd., National House, 60-65 Wardour Street, London W1V 3HP, England.
CAREER: Actress, playwright and writer. Has acted on the French stage and in several films, including Que les ros salaries Lèvant le doigt!, 1982; Jusqu'à la nuit, 1983; Le Goûter Chez Niels, 1986; À demain, 1992; and Loin, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Moliere Award (France) for best author, 1987, and SACD New Talent Award and Johnson Foundation award, all for Conversations after a Burial; Moliere Award for best fringe production, 1990, for Winter Crossing; Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy, 1996, Evening Standard Award for best play, 1996, Antoinette Perry Award (Tony) for best play, 1998, and Moliere Awards for best author, best play and best production, 1998, all for Art; Moliere Award for best translation, for translation of Kafka's Metamorphosis.
Conversations apres un enterrement (produced in France, 1987), Actes sud (Paris, France), 1987, published as Conversations after a Burial, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 2000.
La Traversee de l'hiver (title means "Winter Crossing"), Actes sud, 1989.
Art (produced in Paris, France, 1994) Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), c. 1999.
L'Homme du hasard, Actes sud (Paris, France) 1995.
The Unexpected Man, (produced in France and London, England, c. 1995), translated by Christopher Hampton, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1998.
Trois Versions de la Vie, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2000, translated by Christopher Hampton as Life x 3, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2000, and performed in New York at the Circle in the Square Theater, 2003.
Hammerklavier: Recit (fiction), Albin Michel (Paris, France), c. 1997, published as Hammerklavier, translated by Carol Cosman, in collaboration with Catherine McMillan, G. Braziller (New York, NY), 2000.
Desolation (novel), translated by Carol Brown Janeway, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Adam Haberberg: roman (novel), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2003.
Also author of the television screenplays See You Tomorrow and Kunst, both 1997, and the film screenplays Jusqu'à la nuit, 1983, and Pique-nique de Lula Kreutz, (title means "Lulu Kreutz's Picnic"), 2000.
ADAPTATIONS: The film rights to Art were purchased by Sean Connery; Hammerklavier was adapted into a play.
SIDELIGHTS: French playwright Yasmina Reza began writing short stories as a child, but as an adult she acted on the French stage. She told Rhoda Koenig, in an interview in Vogue magazine, that she soon found her life as an actress was "not intellectual enough. And I was always the slave of the director. That was not for me." What was satisfying for Reza was writing plays of her own, and her acting experience helped her in this endeavor. Successful on the European mainland with plays about family relationships altered by major events, such as Conversations apres un enterrement and La Traversee de l'hiver, during the late 1980s, Reza had a smash hit in her later effort, Art, performed in the West End of London during 1996 and 1997.
Art was inspired by one of Reza's own experiences. A male friend of hers had purchased a piece of modern art consisting of a simple, white-painted canvas, and when he showed it to the playwright, she could not help laughing. Her friend did not take offense, but she could not help wondering about what would have happened if he had, or what would have happened if she had been a man as well. With the latter case in mind, Art, then, tells the comedic story of three male friends gathered in one of their apartments where one is showing off his new white painting. The play is not as much about modern art as about friendships between men. Reza explained to Koenig: "I was asked by a lot of actresses if they could be in the play, but I said no because the vocabulary is that of men, and the friend-ships of men are less intricate than the relationships between women. Women are better than men at hiding and at expressing their opinion. Also, I think if women had a fight, a split, it would not be over an object, a piece of art. If we had an argument about this," she said, "we would say, 'OK, let's have a cup of tea, then we will talk about beauty cream'…. But with a man, his opinion is him."
Art generated much interest, and the dramatic world has thoroughly embraced the play. However, patrons of and experts on modern art have not. Reza reported to Koenig that art critics "accused [me] of being a philistine—a Nazi even—for criticizing modern art." Discussing her artistic tastes, she continued, "I do like modern art, but I don't like this fascism of fashion, telling me what I must like. We make a big mistake in saying that modernity is itself of value." She concluded: "This is what the art dealers and critics want us to think." Nevertheless, theatre critics generally praised the play. Charles Isherwood, writing in Variety, noted that the play's "wit and humanity are indestructible. In a review of the play in the New Straits Times, a contributor noted, "The play explores the nature of friendship—ever fragile and vulnerable, it appears all the more bewildering when it seems to fall apart over a painting. With a masterful hand, the playwright forces the moment to its crisis." Liza Schwarzbaum, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the play "dazzlingly quick and funny."
Reza's next play, The Unexpected Man, is similar to Art, in that it uses a creative work of art as its focal point, this time a novel titled The Unexpected Man. The story takes place on a train where a woman, who is a fan of the author of the novel, finds herself seated with him during her trip. As they travel, the audience first listens to the two speak about their lives in an inner monologue, but not to each other. Finally, the author and fan begin to converse, revealing their lives and the various disappointments they have experienced to each other. "The play's essential theme is loneliness," noted Charles Isherwood, writing in Variety. Isherwood went on to comment: "It is also about the enduring companionship the works of our favorite artists can provide." Noting that the play has "considerable humor, heart and suspense," Isherwood also commented: "The play is, in its own more cerebral way, as much a nail-biter as the famous Hitchcock film about two similarly situated strangers." Ed Kaufman, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, called the play "thoughtful and touching, rich with ambivalence, wordplay and imagination."
In Trois Versions de la Vie, translated into English as Life x 3, Reza displays the falling apart of social conventions as an arguing couple are suddenly interrupted by the husband's boss and his wife who show up a day too early for a dinner engagement. "With axes to grind and nothing to eat but chocolate fingers and processed cheese—plus liberal quantities of Sancerre—the characters quickly reveal their tragic flaws, misplaced ambitions and red-hot desires," noted Tala Skari in Time Europe. Reza, however, tells the story three times, with each scenario unfolding differently. Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Frank Scheck noted: "With each succeeding version, different emotional reactions and small details provide great variations in how the event unfold, demonstrating how easily both external forces and personal choices can dictate life's ever variable events." In an interview with Skari in Time Europe, the author explained her play this way: "I wanted to show that whatever posture you take, it doesn't matter. It's really an argument in favor of catastrophe. At least when things go badly, you feel alive."
In addition to her plays, Reza is also the author of Hammerklavier: Recit, a blending of autobiography and fiction that includes forty-four sketches, or essays. Writing in Booklist, Ray Olson called it a "slim, satisfying book" with its primary theme being "the transience of human life." A reviewer writing on the Complete Review Web site, noted that "Reza does … present a cohesive collection, a sum of impressions that does add up to more than just the brief flashes of each simple narrative." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Poetically written, wry and subtle, these anecdotes may seem slight to some; others will respond more sympathetically to the author's percep-tive reflections on life and the passage of time." Calling the book "unusual," Nancy R. Ives also noted in her review in the Library Journal, that it "will appeal to readers of poetry and those looking for insight into life's complexities."
In her first novel, Desolation, the author presents the reflections of an elderly man looking back over his life as he nears death. The narrator, Samuel, was a successful businessman in the garment industry. As Samuel ruminates on his life and family, he eventually encounters an old woman friend at a flower show. As the two talk, they both reveal past transgressions, including Samuel's friend's guilt over abandoning a lover and Samuel's confession of having an affair with the wife of a client. "Cantankerous, rude, and cheap, Samuel is not the sort who inspires love easily, but his long confession … succeeds in humanizing him and opens his heart to a degree that one rarely finds in the first-person narratives," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Desolation a "delightful first novel," noting that the narrator's story "alternates brilliantly between dry humor and wry flashes of heartbreaking wisdom." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented that the novel has the same "rapier wit and exquisite timing" as Reza's play Art. Kevin Greenberg noted in Book that "it's evident that this debut novel … was crafted by a writer steeped in the language of the stage. "American Theatre contributor Frank J. Baldaro felt that the novel "completely gratifies as an acerbically funny stream-of-consciousness experiment." Baldaro went on to note: "In fact, it coughs up regret, discontent, misanthropy, sadness and despair with such sustained eccentricity as to be almost poignant."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, November, 2002, Frank J. Baldaro, review of Desolation, p. 79.
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, June 25, 2004, review of Art.
Back Stage, November 10, 2000, Julius Novick, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 48.
Back Stage West, December 7, 2000, D. L. King, review of Art, p. 19; September 27, 1002, Hoyt Hilsman, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 15.
Book, November-December, 2002, Kevin Greenberg, review of Desolation, p. 85.
Booklist, April 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Hammerklavier: Recit, p. 1516; September 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Desolation, p. 60.
Business Week, June 11, 2001, "Yasmina Reza."
Daily Variety, April 1, 2003, review of Life x 3, p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, April 17, 1998, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Art, p. 64.
French Review, May 1, 2003, review of Desolation (French version), p. 1284.
Hollywood Reporter, September 21, 2001, Ed Kaufman, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 12; April 2, 2003, Frank Scheck, review of Life x 3, p. 11.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Desolation, p. 1070.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Nancy R. Ives, review of Hammerklavier, p. 129; September 15, 2002, Marc Kloszewski, review of Desolation, p. 94.
New Leader, November, 2000, Stefan Kanfer, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 61.
New Statesman, April 17, 1998, Kate Kellaway, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 42.
New Straits Times, June 25, 2001, review of Art.
New York Times, October 6, 2002, David Finkle, review of Desolation.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 2000, review of Hammerklavier, p. 64; August 26, 2002, review of Desolation, p. 41.
Seattle Times (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service), October 17, 2002, Michael Upchurch, review of Desolation.
Spectator, May 19, 2001, Sheridan Morley, review of Art, p. 47; September 20, 2003, Lloyd Evans, review of Hammerklavier (adapted play version), p. 63.
Time Europe, December 11, 2000, Talki Skari, "Is There Life after Art?: French Playwright Yasmina Reza's Latest Effort Wins Applause, Proving She Can Sing More than One Song."
Variety, September 28, 1998, Charles Isherwood, review of Art, p. 188; September 18, 2000, Matt Wolf, review of Conversations after a Burial, p. 46; October 30, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of The Unexpected Man, p. 32; January 8, 2001, Matt Wolf, review of Life x 3, p. 44.
Vogue, June, 1997, Rhoda Koenig, "Reza's Edge," pp. 130, 134.
World Literature Today, winter, 1999, review of L'homme du Hasard, p. 112; spring, 2000, review of Desolation (French version), p. 188.
Complete Review, http://www.complete-review.com/ (September 10, 2005), reviews of Hammerklavier, Conversations after a Burial, and Desolation.
CurtainUp, http://www.curtainup.com/ (September 10, 2005), Lizzie Loveridge, review of Conversations after a Burial.