In three sentences, what is The Girl from Maxim's about?
I’ll do it in one: France, the old days, a girl, a drunken night and a whole lot of sorting out to do in the morning.
Why this play?
I think it’s one of the five funniest comedies ever written, and I’ve read many. Sometimes with Shakespeare the characterisation is so good that it gets in the way — if I can dare say that — of the laughs. Feydeau finds this wonderful balance between brilliant characterisation and necessary lightness. Also it’s perfect for Hanoi: adult friendly, child friendly, native speaker friendly and not-quite-so-sure-about-the-English-language-in-general friendly.
How would you define the word “naughty”?
I wouldn’t. I would pinch your bum then stare innocently out the window.
What was naughtiness like at the time of the play's setting in early 19th century France?
It feels like there was something loveable about it. I’m not sure quite what that means or how it reflects changes in Western culture since, but without being an expert or having been there, it does seem people were more forgiving of each other’s vices. Perhaps out of necessity.
How does this compare to naughtiness in Hanoi today?
It’s similar in many ways. Much of the humour in the play is based on factors common to modern Vietnamese society: tangled relationship webs, strong family pressures, a city-countryside divide, the presence of certain illicit services and so on. It’s also very well-behaved in its naughty little way, which I think describes Hanoi.
I've heard your new book, Nguoc Chieu Vun Vut is funny, and you picked a funny play. How would you define your sense of humor? Has it changed since you've lived in Vietnam?
Yeah, well, thanks. Humour writing is freakish. By the time your piece gets published the humour has been so dissected, mutilated, sewn together, then dissected and mutilated again — by yourself in the basement — that you begin to see it as disgusting. So comments like that are nice to hear, even if passed on.
I don’t know about my precise sense of humour. My book signings have been well attended by twenty-year-old girls in black-rimmed glasses, so that might be a clue. I think it’s sensitive, a bit nerdy and with some noticeable tension in the lower intestinal region.
Much of Vietnamese humour is of the see-touch-hear-smell variety, but recently there’s been a backlash. The result is a generational humour gap much wider than back home. Being aware of this, I’ve tried to develop a crossover style by using very Vietnamese references in a decidedly abstract manner.
What, in your opinion, is the thing to most look forward to in the show?
The full frontal nudity. Just kidding. Once that has finished and we let the audience in, then what I look forward to most is the simple allure of good actors tracing an ingenious script. (It is a family friendly show, honest.) The comedy is very clockwork, and I get off on the ticks.
How old are you?
Please take this card. On it you will find my date of birth, marital status, monthly salary, thoughts on arm hair, general opinion of Vietnamese women, general opinion of Vietnamese food, frequency of trips back home, and availability for escort-related enquires.
The Girl From Maxim’s will be shown at the Nha Hat Kich (behind Hanoi Opera House), 1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem. It will run from Friday May 25 to Sunday Jun. 3 (Doors, 8pm) with matinee performances on Sunday May 27 and Sunday Jun. 3 (Doors, 2.30pm). The preview will be on Thursday May 24.