Le Livre Blanc/The White Book | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Le Livre Blanc/The White Book

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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 Theater Company'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 Le livre blanc is sometimes 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. Gerber-Hart Library, 1127 W. Granville, Chicago, 773-857-5395. Through July 17: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $10.

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