The Silence of the Sea

 

This two-act “dramatic narrative” adaptation of Jean Brüller’s novella La Silence de la Mer (as translated by Cyril Connolly in 1944) opens as Werner von Ebrennac, a German military officer, arrives to be quartered at the home of the Uncle and his Niece, in Nazi-occupied France.  The Uncle and his Niece wordlessly agree to remain silent in the presence of Werner, despite his attempts to make conversation and to promulgate his way of thinking.  Werner describes his vision for a loving “marriage” between Germany and France, against the backdrop of this French home occupied by two German troopers, who not only help narrate the story in presentational style, but also express their disdain for Werner’s conciliatory dreams.

As Act I transitions into Act II, the Niece fortifies the Uncle with her determined silence, even when he feels weakness and doubt approaching.  Werner’s love of French and English literature and his musical abilities, as well as his explicit rejection of violence even toward insects, are no match for the Niece’s dignified diligence at her work under the Occupation.

But in Act II, the Uncle begins to feel the pressure of his Niece’s scrutiny, after he returns from a visit on bureaucratic business to the German military headquarters – where he and Werner make brief eye contact.  Finally, the Niece herself comes to experience and understand this slight change of heart, when in the final scene, Werner is forced to admit that his visions for a great France, in harmony with a kind Germany, are not shared by most others stationed in France.  Werner is particularly devastated when a close friend reveals himself as the most violent of all, determined to crush and dominate France forever.  Before taking his leave, Werner reports his conversations, his disillusionment, and his plan to transfer to a fighting unit on the Eastern front.  But instead of wishing them, as always, a “good night,” he reaches out to the Niece by saying “Adieu,” to which she finally chooses to respond with that same single word.

 

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Play Structure:

2 Acts:  Act I, 9 scenes; Act II, 2 scenes

Cast size:

5

 

Gender:

1 female, 4 male

Period:

1941.

Location:

Nazi-occupied France.

 

Set:

A sparse stage, representing the modest home of the Uncle and his Niece; also the Kommandantur (German military HQ) office in Act II, Scene 1.

 

Props:

Water and its containers features prominently in the play.

Lighting:

Lighting crossfades should signal change of scenes within Act I.