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Le Livre Blanc/The White Book

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LE LIVRE BLANC/THE WHITE BOOK, Journeymen Theater Company, at Gerber-Hart Library. Though filmmaker-dramatist-artist Jean Cocteau was one of the towering figures of 20th-century European culture, his quasi-autobiographical 1928 novella Le livre blanc was for years dismissed as pornographic trivia. Turns out this account of a homosexual's coming-of-age in early-20th-century France is one of his most enduring works. Its refreshing sexual candor makes it relevant, as does its exploration of how gays must endure or defy bigotry.

The Journeymen's sensitive, intimate story-theater adaptation captures the book's fascination with the tensions between sex and love in Cocteau's relationships with, among others, a precocious schoolmate who died young and a handsome but unlucky sailor. Jean-Paul Menou's elegant lead performance quivers with barely restrained emotion; his mellifluous delivery conveys the terrors and ecstasies Cocteau describes. Husky Victor Holstein and androgynously pretty Christopher Zimowski provide protean support in multiple male and female roles. The no-frills design consists mainly of Cocteau's own whimsically erotic line drawings projected onto the rear wall of a nearly bare stage.

Though sometimes Le livre blanc is almost comically quaint--Cocteau describes a penis as a "fabulous little underwater plant [that] reared up and threw its seed"--it remains a classic of underground gay literature. The work's final words--"I will not agree to be tolerated. This damages my love of love and of liberty"--constitute a timely credo in this day of civilly disobedient same-sex weddings.

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