“Castles of the sky”: the reign of the imaginary
Photo: Valérian Mazataud Le Devoir The playwright Marie-Claude Verdier
Marie-Claude Verdier has been writing this text about King Ludwig II of Bavaria for almost two decades. We might be surprised to see this lover of gender universes, winner of the 2022 Michel-Tremblay Prize for her science fiction play Seeker, take an interest in a historical figure. But that's in a video game — a fantasy story with a werewolf! —, therefore in these imaginary worlds of which the designer is fond, that she first discovered Ludwig.
The then teenager had been won over and inspired by this being “in search of the absolute, who wanted to be in an imaginary world. He was a bit of a geek before the letter. He was a big fan of knightly operas. He grew up in a family with a very strong mythology: the Wittelsbachs were said to have descended from fairies. And in addition, it arrives in the middle of the 19th century, at the end of the romantic era, therefore in a movement of medieval exaltation, around a fantasized Middle Ages. »
At the age of 17, Marie-Claude Verdier learned German, was welcomed, thanks to a Goethe-Institut program, into a family in a Bavarian village, and went visit the sumptuous castles that the monarch had built.
Ludwig II of Bavaria is a figure that never ceases to fascinate artists. Why is this historical figure, who ascended the throne at age 19 in 1864, relevant today? The playwright responds with an aphorism from Oscar Wilde. While on tour in America, he was asked, “Why do you think American youth is so violent?” He would have retorted with this quip: “It's simple: because your wallpaper is so ugly.” For the author, Ludwig “denounces the idea that beauty is only for a certain class, an elite, and at the same time that all beauty is suspect. His reign program is based on beauty, education, non-violence. He refuses war. He [did it] because he had to, taken in treaties. But he is a complex character, because even if he refuses violence, he is a deeply violent being.
Quoting Marie-Hélène Voyer's Quebec essay on heritage, The habit of ruins, Verdier therefore wished to speak of this beauty which is “always the poor relation, the thing that one never takes seriously”. Unlike Germany, precisely, “our secondary schools are particularly ugly, without light”. She laments the absence of a policy that would encourage our public places to have a “concern for elegance. For the common good » !
A great artistic patron, Ludwig, he supported the composer Richard Wagner, then in disgrace, had theaters built, in addition to his dream castles, “which were all built by scenographers. So I found it interesting to bring this king to the theater, he who wanted so much to project himself in theaters, and who only performed for himself”.
Marie-Claude Verdier had Claude Poissant, the artistic director of the Denise-Pelletier (TDP) theater, read Châteaux du ciel, where she herself had known her beginnings as an author as a teenager (thanks to a tale chosen for New Zurbans). The play was the subject of a “beautiful collaboration” with the director, who edited several texts from the romantic period, “so who understands well the universe that I was trying to bring”.
The author took great pleasure in slipping into the style of romantic drama. “There was something really thrilling about being able to go into outpourings of passion, and into a certain language. To do this, she says she was inspired by Victor Hugo and Friedrich von Schiller, but also a little by the permission that Michel Marc Bouchard had offered himself by creating Christine, the queen-boy. “I sometimes find that we don't give ourselves that freedom, to talk about a figure from the past to deal with the present. As if we were caught in the present. Because whether she uses the future or the past, as here, it is always for Verdier a desire to talk about today.
And, young, she herself had vibrated in front of the passions, the larger than life characters of a romantic play by Hugo, staged at the TDP by Poissant. “I was glad I could bring Ludwig there. If young people experience what I experienced when I saw Lucrezia Borgia, I would be very happy.
She also believes that teenage viewers will be able to appreciate this idealistic character who, at 19, is offered the rare luxury of power giving him the means to fulfill his ambitions. A young leader “who arrives and shakes up the established order, who had a desire for change”.
From Wagner to Sissi
The author and actor Dany Boudreault, who interprets the main role, has accompanied the creation for a long time, having participated in the workshops very early on. “To me, it was very clear that he was going to play Ludwig, that he completely understood what I wanted to do.
With a cast of characters drawn from major historical figures, from Wagner to Chancellor Bismarck—who then aimed to unify Germany—the show also commands a wide cast. The author of Seekergoes from a very intimate duo to a fresco with 12 characters. “I like the epic character, the abundance of romantic theatre. »
Additionally, through her research, Marie-Claude Verdier realized that she “could have written a play about each of the people” in Louis II's family. She mentions her aunt Alexandra, afflicted with the mental disorder of the glass illusion, “where people thought their bones were made of glass” (she thought she was carrying a crystal piano in her insides instead!). His brother Othon, traumatized by his participation in the horrors of the 1870 war, “the first conflict in which industrial weapons were used. […] It’s his Vietnam.” Without forgetting the Empress Sissi of Austria, the cousin that Ludwig loved so much. The author talks in great detail about this material which visibly fascinates her.
And through his relationship with his aide-de-camp, we glimpse the sexuality of Louis II, who had several lovers. But his notebooks being kept by his family, this identity of the king remains “fairly secret”. “And even today it is a taboo. Bavaria is still a rather conservative place. Even if [the Bavarians] remain very attached to Ludwig, this aspect of his personality remains quite hidden. »
The monarch was also very religious, with a quest for transcendence that probably pitted him against his carnal desires. Drawing much inspiration from medieval stories, the playwright wanted to assimilate her protagonist to Parsifal – Ludwig was a fan of Wagner's opera – this warrior who, in the tales, appears as a “mystical knight”.< /p>
Deceased at age 40, in nebulous circumstances (“these young and mysterious deaths create a legend”), Ludwig preferred the imaginary and the dream to the real. Which seems quite atypical for a leader. “At the same time, he is a monarchical figure. And monarchs, that's kind of their job: to be a symbol. »
Beyond the reservations and criticisms that we can have about the monarchy, Marie-Claude Verdier points out that for the English, Queen Elizabeth II had “this idea of giving an example so that we can be the best of ourselves, beyond a certain policy. There are plenty of downsides to that. But that someone in the State offers us a symbol of overcoming, a model of values beyond the concrete everyday life, it is still an important thing. And right now, we don't have that. I don't think that among our leaders, there is someone who leads us to want to surpass ourselves, to want to ally us, leads us towards something more peaceful…
Castles of the Sky
Text: Marie-Claude Verdier. Director: Claude Poissant. With Mikhaïl Ahooja, Félix Beaulieu-Duchesneau, Annick Bergeron, Frédéric Blanchette, Dany Boudreault, Myriam Gaboury, Maxime Genois, Fabrice Girard, Daniel Parent and Mary-Lee Picknell. At the Denise-Pelletier theatre, until April 15.