The darker side of the world of author Hans Christian Andersen comes to life with the East Coast premiere of “The Andersen Project,” a one-man show/multimedia production running June 11-13 at the Merriam Theater.
Written by openly gay Quebec City-based writer, director and actor Robert Lepage, “The Andersen Project” is inspired by two of Andersen’s stories: “The Dryad” and “The Shadow.”
Yves Jacques, an openly gay award-winning stage and film actor, performs all the characters in the show, some representing Andersen at different stages in his life.
“I play two major characters,” Jacques said: “a French-Canadian who is very naïve and comes to Paris for the first time. Then I’m playing this director of the Paris Opera who is a darker character. It’s all about loneliness and wanting to do new things. That’s what Robert wants to tell with Andersen’s own life. He was a lonely guy and he wanted to be approved away from home. I think it’s a lot about Robert’s own feelings.”
Jacques said Lepage uses those two stories to shine a light on the darker and little-known side of life of the 19th-century author best known for writing children’s stories like “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ugly Duckling.”
“As Robert would say, Andersen would put a lot of himself in these stories,” Jacques said. “‘The Dryad’ is Andersen. Andersen is a kind of dryad who wants to go to Paris and see this beautiful city and the world exhibition. He’s naïve and thinks the world is better away from home and that is not always true. ‘The Shadow’ would be the dark side because Andersen would have problems in his own life being approved in Denmark. He would knock on theater doors to try to write for theater and nobody would like him. He was some kind of a shadow in the Copenhagen neighborhoods.”
Jacques added that because Andersen was bisexual, the production also explores questions of sexuality and the solitude that comes with fame.
“Robert had to tell Andersen’s sexuality because he wanted everyone to know,” he said. “The Queen of Denmark wanted Robert Lepage to write a theater play about Andersen. But Robert didn’t want to do it until he found that Andersen had a dark side and he wanted to be approved away from his home. He was very interested and thought it was very interesting that this guy would write for children and never liked children. He actually had a notebook that would mark the times that he would masturbate, while he was this kind of beautiful figure being a writer for children. At the time, he had this weird sexual life. He would never have any love affair with anyone and he never had any sexual activity with any human beings. He wasn’t living a normal life for someone who would writes for children.”
Jacques said he’s privileged to work on a production like “The Andersen Project” for Lepage — who has also directed tours for Peter Gabriel and created shows for Cirque du Soleil — and enjoys the challenge of performing outside the confines of traditional theater.
“It makes you better as an actor to experience this new way of doing theater,” he said. “It’s very modern. I’m more from a classical way of acting. I’ve been doing Molière, so I was very happy to meet [Lepage] and work with him.”
“The Andersen Project” runs June 11-13 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, visit www.kimmelcenter.org or call (215) 790-5847.