All things Molière … and more.
May 26, 2020
A rehearsed online reading of my Tartuffe presented by Theatre in the Country in Langley, BC – live via Zoom – for two nights (June 5 & 6, 2020). Tickets available.
April 8, 2020
R.I.P. Jean-Laurent Cochet (January 28, 1935 – April 7, 2020)
“Ce matin, mon professeur de théâtre, dont l’enseignement a bouleversé ma vie, nous a quitté.” (This morning, my old professor – whose theatre courses turned my life upside down – has left us.)
~ French actor Actor Fabrice Luchini
Jean-Laurent Cochet, actor, director and teacher was taken by covid-19 yesterday at the age of 85. His career included becoming a ‘pensionnaire’ of the prestigious Comédie-Française in the early 1960s. He founded his own acting school (le cours Cochet) in 1966, where he taught generations of actors, incuding Luchini, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Béart, Isabelle Huppert, Daniel Auteuil, and Arnaud Denis.
He directed more than 150 productions and played more than 300 roles, many of them classics of French theatre. Over his career, he worked in many of the plays I’ve translated. He both directed and acted in Molière’s Le Misanthrope and Tartuffe (he did both at the same time in one Tartuffe production and in 3 separate productions of Le Misanthrope.) In 2020, I was lucky to have seen in person his Philaminte – formidable, dignified and very funny – in Les Femmes Savantes (my Educating Women). He directed Henry Becque’s La Parisienne (my One Rose, Two Thorns) and Jules Renard’s Le Pain de Menage (my The Colour of Grass), and both directed and acted in Marivaux’ Les Sincères (my Really, Really, Really, Sincerely Yours). He was also fond of playwrights Labiche, Feydeau, and Guitry. I can’t imagine another modern French theatre giant as connected to my own work as Jean-Laurent Cochet.
April 4, 2020
Set Designs for Molière: (3) Les Femmes Savantes
Molière didn’t write stage directions or set descriptions as we know them. Perhaps that’s part of why his plays retain their freshness: time and place are largely left up to each theatre company or director to determine. Productions of Les Femmes Savantes are no exception, as these creative examples illustrate….
March 22, 2020
Another German Tartuffe
German productions excel in bringing out the dark side of Tartuffe – and the 2017 ResidenzTheater show in Munich was no exception – even though director Mateja Koležnik is from Ljubljana, Slovenia. You can see for yourself in these photos by Raimund Orfeo Voigt (who also designed the set):
February 6, 2020
Molière’s 398th birthday
Every January 15, the company of the Comédie-Française in Paris celebrates Molière’s birthday, in costume, on stage. (see a video clip from last year’s celebration below.) This year was his 398th….
July 7, 2019
A Lithuanian Tartuffe in China:
The Lithuanian National Drama Theater (Lietuvos nacionalinis dramos teatras) is touring 5 Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Xiamen) in July, 2019, with their production of Tartuffe presented last summer in the Avignon festival.
Director Oskaras Koršunovas gave this blunt answer in an online interview with Chinese journalists:
“How was the script (re-)written? Did you take reference from current affairs or media?
“Everyone gets this impression that the text has been rewritten because the performance looks and sounds very modern. … in Europe there is a tendency to rewrite the classic plays, the directors usually do it themselves, thinking they can do it better than the playwrights. It’s a popular trend, but it’s not something I do.
“In general, I think that this tendency to rewrite the classics has come from the creator’s inability to speak using the means of expression of pure theater. When the creators do not know the language of the theater, they are unable to interpret classical texts in a modern way and then they begin to rewrite them, and the results, with rare exceptions, are very sad. In my version the text is Moliere’s.”
From these photos, Chinese audiences are in for a rare treat:
June 7, 2019
Set Designs for Molière: (2) Le Misanthrope
Directors have found Le Misanthrope particularly relevant to contemporary life and used great creativity in their set designs. This selection ranges from almost bare stages to a private restaurant rented for the occasion by Celimene (Schauspielhause, Zürich, 2013)….
February 17, 2019
Set Designs for Molière: (1) Tartuffe
Molière’s plays are classics because their themes are universal; they’re at home across oceans and centuries.
Molière didn’t write stage directions as we know them. I believe that’s part of why his plays retain their freshness: time and place is largely left up to each theatre company or director to determine. I’ve tried to keep that flexibility in my translations into English.
Several of my blog posts highlight the range of costumes featured in various productions of Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, and Les Femmes Savantes (the three Molière plays I’ve translated). Set design provides an even broader scope for directors. Here are a few, beginning with Tartuffe….
January 15, 2019
Happy 397th birthday, Molière!
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (aka Molière) was born (or at least baptized) on the Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris on January 15, 1622. Each year the actors of the Comédie-Française – known as “la Maison de Molière” – celebrate the day. Here’s a 6-minute clip (in French) from January 15, 2017 – with all the company, dressed in costume of whatever role they were playing at the time, speaking their favourite lines from Molière. Note that the biggest hit of that season was a modern-dress production of Molière’s own Le Misanthrope. Click on the image to watch the clip.
December 29, 2018
Mizantróp in Hungarian
I’ve discovered a substantial number of Hungarian-language Misanthrope (Mizantróp) productions. (Some were produced at Hungarian-language theatres in neighbouring Romania.)
Hungarian directors seem to have found Moliere’s classic particularly relevant to contemporary life and chose sets and costumes accordingly – including a gay production in 2004 Budapest. Enjoy the photographs.
December 1, 2018
R.I.P. Yves Basc (b.1930 – d.November 29, 2018)
… actor, director. Sociétaire (member) of the Comédie-Française.
Among many other roles and plays, he directed (and played the title role in) a production of Tartuffe for the Tréteaux de France, the French national company that toured the US, England, Scotland and Australia in 1968-69. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of it, but the October 11, 1968 Harvard Crimson wrote that this “very slimy Tartuffe” gives his role “credibility and life.”
Other Molière plays in which he appeared (some in more than one production) include Le Misanthrope, Les Femmes Savantes, L’École des femmes, Critique de l’École des femmes, L’Etourdi, Le Malade imaginaire, Les Précieuses ridicules (also directed), L’Avare, and L’Impromptu de Versailles
Gasc also acted in many films and television specials. His last stage role (at the age of 84) was Basque in the 2014 Comédie-Française production of Le Misanthrope, filmed and shown in cinemas around the world.
November 12, 2018
R.I.P. DOUGLAS RAIN (b.1928 – d.November 11, 2018)
In 1968, the year this gifted actor played the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he also played Orgon to William Hutt’s Tartuffe at Canada’s Stratford Festival.
November 6, 2018
NO TRANSLATION NECESSARY?
No translation necessary for Um Tartufo by the Cia Teatro Esplendor located in the Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Botafogo … because it’s performed without words! Yes, Molière’s plays are noted for their language (he probably had as much influence on the French language as Shakespeare had on English), and no, as a translator I’m not predisposed to dispense with language, but…. this mimed production has the élan we’ve come to expect from Brazil.
From the reviews in Portuguese I’ve been able to read, director Bruce Gomlevsky has remained faithful to the story, but dispensing with words has expanded his scope for creativity.
Visually it reminds me of the groundbreaking 1995 Tartuffe production by Arianne Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil – with a touch of commedia dell’arte and a soupçon of kabuki. By the way, that’s the director’s sister, Yasmin Gomlevsky, in the role of Tartufo.
September 22, 2018
A TRADITIONAL (AND METICULOUS) TARTUFFE IN PARIS.
40 years ago, the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris staged two landmark productions of Tartuffe in succeeding years: by directors Roger Planchon, then Antoine Vitez.
Now they’ve done it again: last year by Michel Fau, and opening September 2018 by Peter Stein. Both bucked a contemporary trend to staging Molière in modern dress. Stein, a German director now living in Italy, never considered directing Tartuffe in any language but French.
“With Molière, it’s always the language. His alexandrins, hard-edged or musical, contain an irony that’s very French. The play is built on moments – comic, moving, violent – but it always comes down to the words.“ [my translation]
At the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, Stein had the advantage of two veteran stars of the French stage: Jacques Weber as Orgon, and Pierre Arditi as Tartuffe.
June 22, 2018
BILINGUAL TARTUFFE IN UK: “JUST SAY NON”
Yes, even Tartuffe can go wrong. A bilingual production of Tartuffe opened with much anticipation May 25, 2018 at Theatre Royal Haymarket, UK. Blending the ‘langue de Molière’ (surtitled) with a new English translation by Christopher Hampton … it fell enormously flat, at least with the critics (“Just say non” came from Metro Newspaper UK.) Here’s a sampling:
“Sacré blue! Ce bilingual Tartuffe ne works pas”
~ The Telegraph
“On paper, it might have seemed like a good idea. In practice, this bilingual version of Molière’s great comedy, played in both French and English, proves erratic and confusing.”
~ The Guardian
“An imposing, monumental box took centre stage, fronted by glass that could be changed from clear to cloudy at the flick of a switch, hiding and revealing the actors inside. The novelty of this theatrical toy quickly wore off.”
~ The Economist
“Elsewhere – apparently at random – Hampton turns parts of the text into English blank verse, which next to the French sounds jarringly casual. Why two languages anyway? We never know.”
~ The Arts Desk
“the moments of political seriousness are clunky, especially when the now almost obligatory reference to Donald Trump is introduced with all the subtlety of a charging rhino.”
~ Evening Standard
“Merde, what a mess.”
~ The Times
With all modesty … look HERE for a better Tartuffe translation.
May 20, 2018
“At the curtain call, the audience – completely won over and on their feet – brought back the actors several times. Even so, I wasn’t sure that they’d fully understood that the main target of this comedy – as our Orgon, Michel Bouquet, wrote in his book about Molière – was not the title character, but the man he played:
“There are many Orgons in the world today – people whose weakness lies in a preference for blindness, a need for authority, and dreams of obedience...”
~ translated from Francis Richard’s review of TARTUFFE at Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, December 3, 2017.
TARTUFFE is not so much about hypocrisy or greed as it is about gullibility; in that sense, the main character is not Tartuffe, it’s Orgon. The key to a successful production often lies in creating an Orgon that the audience believes is clever enough to run a successful business yet dim enough to believe in Tartuffe when everyone in his household (except his mother) sees through him.
Here are a few interesting looking Orgons:
April 18, 2018
ANOTHER CREATIVE TARTUFFE FROM GERMANY.
I’ll let these production photos (yes) speak for themselves. Taken by Sandra Then, they’re from TARTUFFE which opened April 14, 2018 at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, Germany, directed by Robert Gerloff. I can’t find who the German translator is; perhaps it’s Robert Koall, given credit for ‘dramaturgie.’
And for an even better idea of this production, here’s the youtube trailer:
April 5, 2018
AN ALL-WOMAN, MODERN FEMMES SAVANTES IN FRANCE.
My goal in writing EDUCATING WOMEN, my translation of Molière’s Les Femmes Savantes, was to allow English-speaking theatre companies as much choice in tone and setting as Molière’s original script, but French director Agnès Larroque of la Compagnie du Détour has gone one better. She has set her version of this classic in a modern kitchen, with only five actors – all women!
The five women play Philaminte, Belise, Armande, Henriette and Martine, and each doubles as one of the men: Chrysale, Ariste, Clitandre, Trissotin, and Vadius. They also play the actors they really are, changing in full view of the audience and arguing about it onstage before beginning Les Femmes Savantes proper.
It’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, and more. The director had this to say about it: “These women are ridiculous; they touch us; they disturb us. It’s that balance – between the comic and the poignant – that is exactly what I want to explore in Les Femmes Savantes. [my translation]
It was produced in the 2016 Avignon Festival, and is still touring France (last show now scheduled is May 31, 2018)
March 20, 2018
TARTUFFE IN ROMANIA, 2018
Tartuffe opened March 18, 2018 at the Teatrul Maria Filotti in Brăila, Romania in a new Romanian translation by Doru Mareş. The director was Alexandru Mâzgăreanu, described as “one of the most creative and successful directors of the young generation.”
As local critic Armanda Filipine writes (translated):
“Of course there’s laughter – it’s a Molière play, after all – but when the director goes beneath the surface and the actors are true, it’s laughter mixed with sadness and with bitterness. This play deals with life, and life must always be taken seriously.“
November 13, 2017
TARTUFFE IN MONTREAL
Set in 1951 Montreal, the Lakeshore Players Dorval production of my TARTUFFE translation ran November 2 to 11, 2017:
A handful among many patron comments:
“Fantastic show! Was there on Friday and loved every minute”
“enjoyed every moment of the show”
“I was sad to see the Saturday show, because it was SO good, but I couldn’t suggest to anyone else to see it, since it was the last! Great job!”
“Really funny! Well done!”
“Enjoyed the production immensely! Bravo!”
“Great show…..well cast….well produced and directed….and……funny!”
“Fantastic play!!! Amazing actors/actresses. Dorine stole the show!!!!”
October 27, 2017
MODERNITY OF THE MISANTHROPE
Here are a few 2017 modern dress European productions:
May 22, 2017
TARTUFFE in AFRICA
TARTUFFE is a classic because it’s timeless and universal – as these two recent productions illustrate.
One took place at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi this past weekend – an A Falme Production of an English-language locally-written adaptation.
The second is Fortune Cookie Theatre’s touring production of Richard Wilbur’s translation, in association with Alliance Française, throughout South Africa (including Soweto, Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg)