“CAMILLE” by Alexandre Dumas fils, the Greatest Dramatic Love Story

INDEPENDENT PLAYERS opened its 2022-2023 Season in September with TWO ROOMS, a very serious political drama concerning the kidnapping of Americans by terrorists in Beirut by the contemporary American playwright Lee Blessing. In March, IP is presenting what it considers the perfect antidote–Camille (“The Lady of the Camillias”) by the 19th Century French playwright Alexandre Dumas fils.  In essence, this play proves that true love can triumph over what seems to be totally insurmountable odds.  It is the best known play written by Dumas fils, adapted from his novel of the same title, and many critics consider it to be the greatest love story in dramatic literature. It will be presented at the Elgin Art Showcase, In the Professional Building, 164 Division Street (8th floor), downtown Elgin for two weekends—March 10-18, 2023. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, March 10-11, 17-18, at 7:30 PM and Sundays, March 12 and 19 at 2:00 PM

         Camille was published by Dumas fils in 1848, as a romantic novel (La Dame aux Camellias). The title character was inspired by a young courtesan named Marie Duplessis whom Dumas met when he moved to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris.   Due to its tremendous immediate popularity (and his need for money!), Dumas adapted the novel into the play entitled Camille in 1852.  It was so immediately popular that in 1853, the great operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi “borrowed” the entire plot for his masterpiece La traviata —he did, however, give his lovers different names!!!

         The play is set in mid-19th century France and tells the tragic love story of Marguerite Gautier, a courtesan suffering from consumption, and Armand Duval, a young bourgeois.  Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover.  He convinces her to leave her life as a courtesan and to live with him in the countryside.  This idyllic existence is interrupted by Armand’s father, who, concerned with the scandal created by this illicit relationship, and fearing that it will destroy Armand’s sister’s chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave his son.  Until Marguerite is on her deathbed, Armand believes that she left him for one of her best friends, the Count de Giray. Armand returns to her as she is dying, surrounded by her friends, and pledges to love her even after her death.

         Dumas is careful to portray Marguerite favorably throughout the play. Despite her questionable past life, she is rendered virtuous by her love for Armand, and the suffering of the two lovers. Their love is shattered by the need to conform to the extremely rigid morals of the 19th Century.   

         Needless to say, the leading role of Marguerite has been sought after and played by many legendary actresses.  When it premiered at the Theatre du Vaudeville in Paris, the famed actress Eugenie Doche created the role of Marguerite Gautier. Not long before her death in 1900, Doche recalled that she had played the role 617 times. She then added “I suppose I could not have played it badly, since Dumas fils wrote in his preface, “Mme. Doche is not my interpreter; she is my collaborator.”

         Countless famous film actresses, too many to count, have played Marguerite on stage throughout the world,  including such icons as Sarah Bernhardt, Laura Keene, Eleonora Duse, Tallulah Bankhead, Lillian Gish, Dolores del Rio, Eva Le Gallienne and Isabelle Adjani.  In the 20 different motion pictures which have been made in numerous countries and many languages, the role was played by Bernhardt (of course), Maria Felix, Clara Kimball Young, Theda Bara, Yvonne Printemps, Greta Garbo, Micheline Presle, Francesca Bertini, Isabelle Huppert—and others.  In 1853, Jean Davenport starred in the first American production of the play, a “sanitized version that changed the name of the leading character to Camille—something most American actresses still do when they play the role.  IP is using Marguerite which is consistent with what Dumas fils intended. 

         Independent Players is very happy to be able to bring this wonderful love story to the Elgin, Elgin Art Showcase and the Chicagoland area for what it suspects is the first time.  In addition to the wonderful story it tells, the script itself follows the pattern of what is now called the “well-made play.”  Act I consists of an introduction and exposition in which the audience learns the setting (time/place), the characters, and the conflict of the story.  Act II is essentially the development of the action of the play which leads the audience to the climax. Complications arise and the protagonist encounters obstacles.  Act III is the climax of the play, the turning point when the main character faces a crisis (a turning point with the highest amount of suspense) which determines the trajectory of the rest of the story. Act IV is where any unknown details of the crisis are revealed and brought to a conclusion. Act V is the denouement or resolution— the final outcome of the play. The author’s tone about the subject matter is revealed and sometime a moral lesson is learned.          All that being said, INDEPENDENT PLAYERS presents Alexandre Dumas fils ‘ classic love story CAMILLE  for three weekends, Fridays & Saturdays, March 3-4, 10-11, and 17-18, 2023 at 7:30 PM & Sundays, March 12 and 19 at 2 PM at the Elgin Art Showcase, (8th Floor) 164 Division Street, Elgin.  Doors open one half hour before curtain time.  Tickets are $20.00 with tickets for Senior Citizens and Students at $15. Tickets at the door:  Cash or Check only. Online:  go to www.independentplayers.org.   For Reservations by phone, call (847) 697-7374. We hope to see you there!!