RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There's a hearing today in New York, in the civil case brought by a hotel maid against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for sexual assault. The former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was once poised for the French presidency, saw his career - and marriage - ended by the incident. He's all but vanished from the public sphere in France, but remains the subject of fascination. Now, a play about the fateful encounter in New York, has just opened in Paris. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley saw it, and sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE SOUNDS FROM PLAY, "SUITE 2806")

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The audience titters as a bathrobe-clad actor, playing Strauss-Kahn, walks onto the set of "Suite 2806," a play about the May 2011 hotel incident.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SUITE 2806")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (as hotel maid) (French spoken)

ERIC DEBROSSE: (as Strauss-Kahn) (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: You scared me, says the hotel maid.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SUITE 2806")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (as hotel maid) (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The drama imagines what could have transpired in that hotel suite. The play evokes sexuality, race and privilege as the two actors spar, and the power quotient constantly changes. Director Philippe Hersen says he received numerous scripts after Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York.

PHILIPPE HERSEN: (Through translator) But what I didn't want was some vaudeville comedy about what happened. This was intelligently written; a smart play about power, money and sexual addiction.

BEARDSLEY: Hersen calls Strauss-Kahn a modern-day Marquis de Sade, who uses his power to seduce women. France was stunned by the scandal. Jean-Louis Gauthier came to see the play with his wife, Lola.

JEAN-LOUIS GAUTHIER: We came to see this play just to have a look how the writer rewrite this story.

LOLA GAUTHIER: Because we don't know...

JEAN-LOUIS GAUTHIER: So we...

LOLA GAUTHIER: ...we don't know what happened. It's a fiction, whatever happens, isn't it? I was actually quite relieved when he got caught because I think it started up conversations in France that needed to be had.

BEARDSLEY: The hotel incident, though initially chalked up to American puritanism, became a watershed moment in France. Much like the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Supreme Court hearings in the U.S. 20 years ago, the DSK affair, as it was called here, embroiled the country in a long-overdue debate about sexual harassment, the misbehavior of powerful men, and a media complicit with power.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SUITE 2806")

DEBROSSE: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Actor Eric Debrosse says he worked hard to get the physical dimensions of Strauss-Kahn right, in order to understand his sexual addiction. Debrosse gained 20 pounds for the role, and perfected his sidelong glances.

DEBROSSE: (Through translator) Sometimes, people say to me, oh, you were too perverted; or, you weren't perverted enough - because everyone is imagining whatever they want.

BEARDSLEY: Did he sabotage himself? Was he set up by former president Nicolas Sarkozy?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM PLAY, "SUITE 2806"; APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: "Suite 2806" ends ambiguously. Spectator Jean-Louis Gauthier says while no one will ever know what actually happened in that hotel room, it's a good thing it happened before Strauss-Kahn became the Socialist Party presidential candidate. Everyone knows Sarkozy had the goods on him, says Gauthier.

JEAN-LOUIS GAUTHIER: Actually, French people thanks God he's been caught before the French election.

LOLA GAUTHIER: Yes!

JEAN-LOUIS GAUTHIER: She save us because actually, without this woman, DSK will be in presidential election, and we will have Sarkozy again, for five years.

BEARDSLEY: Next week, a French judge will decide whether Strauss-Kahn is to face charges of organized prostitution, for his libertine soirees.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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