Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Classic Comedy


"Good God! Do you expect me to submit
To the tyranny of that carping hypocrite?
Must we forgo all joys and satisfactions
Because that bigot censures all our actions?" 
-        (Tartuffe, 1.1.18)

Less than two weeks ago I attended a lecture on "Why Comedy is No Laughing Matter". The lecture tilted toward serious literature that includes humor and comedy as an important aspect. On Sunday past I attended a performance of a classic comedy that has serious ideas as an important aspect.  The BoHo Theatre: Bohemian Theatre Ensemble presented Tartuffe by Moliere as adapted by Ranjit Bolt.  The afternoon of theater was exciting as the excellent production kept a smile on my face when I wasn't laughing.  BoHo's ensemble proved that this classic is still able to speak to audiences in the twenty-first century.  The direction was crisp with efficient use of small theater space that allowed a theater-in-the-round format.  Best of all the acting was great with a particularly exceptional performance by Saren Nofs-Snyder as Dorine.  Daria Harper's portrayal of Mme. Pernelle was also worth mentioning as she was effective in the role of Grand Dame trying, without success, to keep her extended family under control.  For example in Act 1  she comments:

"Children, I take my leave much vexed in spirit.
I offer good advice but you won't hear it.
You all break in and chatter on and on.
It's like a madhouse with the keeper gone." (1.1.5)

  As with all his plays, Moliere's Tartuffe is a comedy of ideas wherein the author uses humor, ridicules stereotypical, yet recognizable types to make a serious statement about his world. In the case of Tartuffe, which I first read more than four decades ago in a comparative literature class at the University of Wisconsin, there is a central character whose religious hypocrisy upends the lives of those around him. The hypocritcal character of Tartuffe and the critique of religion presented in the play resulted in its being banned after very few performances. The play survived, however, as demonstrated by its inclusion in the university curriculum three centuries later and its continuing presence on the stage. Tartuffe, along with a handful of Moliere's other great comedies are still worth reading and rereading for their insights into human foibles that are with us to this day.

Tartuffe by Moliere

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