Preparedness: a French company teaches us to step back from the market – and into crises

On a recent Saturday morning, one of the few adults around the two empty halls of Edmond J. Safra and Sons Mutual Fund, New York, was playing on a computer terminal: “Would you buy a mortgage at today’s price, which is so below [what] we should be getting, how does one know?” When the person stopped playing, a female voice bellowed: “The person who bought last week’s mortgage is still on the phone trying to sell her house.”

This scene is not meant to be funny, but it is serious.

“Preparedness,” the one-act play by a new French company called Roméo et Juliette, is about how hard it is to know when to tell a person in the midst of crises about the siren song of well-meaning, but potentially disastrous, advice from strangers. A couple of actors, each playing one of the staff of a global stock exchange, butt heads over how to react when someone contacts them with information about a potential (and bogus) downturn in the stock market. In the end, one of the characters goes into a panic: “Something has to be done … Something has to be done … Something has to be done.” It’s very funny.

Éméné de Matos, as Madeleine Morgart and Selina Villalobos as Adriana Marilla, from left, in ‘Preparedness’, performed by Roméo et Juliette. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

If a woman writes and a man reads her blog, will either side want to help? What if they already have plans for the day (more than people may want to admit)? Or what if someone wants to help? But if everyone is rushing to sound off, and sharing every minute detail of a planned wedding? Will the pressure make any sense at all?

The play is set in a well-appointed office space, where a group of supposed market experts are waiting for a call from “James” (played by Éméne de Matos). In past episodes, the call comes in and everyone is ready for the information: a market swoon or a bubble bursting. The miscommunications and awkward pauses occur, as they do at the end of any call. The characters are unable to let go of the issue.

“Preparedness” tells the story of how hard it is to meet the needs of others while knowing exactly what you need to hear.

“You feel doomed to give advice unless it’s necessarily the right advice,” one character confides.

The play is performed by a troupe led by Julien Decoud, a French theatre actor who once performed pieces about his brother’s cancer diagnosis. He says he was touched by current events. People are asking for more information about banking and non-traditional ways to invest. “People have more information than they can process,” Decoud says. “And we as people wonder what to do, and how to handle these situations.”

Before “Preparedness”, the troupe had staged plays about interracial relations, such as an adaptation of Miss Brooke’s Baby, which tells the story of Alexandra Brooke, a white woman who gave up her baby for adoption, and the illegitimate one she had with a black man.

Their next project is a project on the latter.

While “Preparedness” examines connections in the immediate world, Decoud says, his and Roméo et Juliette’s short-run play about others is an exploration of the longer haul.

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