Tag Archives: Moliere

Reviewing the review: a Moliere muddle

By Bob Hicks

And so it came to pass that on the first night, Mr. Scatter went to the opening of Moliere‘s comedy The Imaginary Invalid at Portland Center Stage.

Nicolas Mignard, "Portrait of Molière as Julius Ceasar," 1658. Musée Carnavalet, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.And on the second morning he got up, made coffee, and wrote his review, which was subsequently published (the review, not the coffee) in The Oregonian. And the review praised some and quibbled some, and was not, in the terminology of the great god Variety, boffo.

And lo, the director, Chris Coleman, took issue (firmly but very politely) in an email message to the reviewer. And Mr. Coleman made some worthy points.

And on the next day Mr. Scatter replied. And Mr. Coleman replied in return, “Mind if I run this exchange on my blog?” And Mr. Scatter said, “Good idea.” For indeed, it was.

So here you have it: three parts of an exchange that is really about the way we look at theater, and think about it, and write about it (about classic theater in particular), and about the different approaches that the people who make theater and the people who analyze it take to that process. Plus, as a bonus, some thoughts about what a reviewer should do when he senses that pretty much everyone else in the audience disagrees with him.

Chris has gathered the three parts together on his PCS blog, under the title Is My Review Your Review? To get you in the mood to wade into the fray, I’ve included a pertinent teaser from each of the three parts. Comment here, or on Chris’s blog, or preferably on both (that’s what the copy-block function’s for):

  • The original review, which ran in Monday editions of the paper and online here at Oregon Live: “(F)or all its surface frivolity, something’s missing from Center Stage’s ‘Invalid’ — the sense that what’s happening inside Argan’s anarchic household is connected to the larger culture outside its doors.”
  • Chris Coleman’s response: “… I have, of late, found myself impatient with reviewers (the world over) bringing so much of their own ‘expectations’ to a production of a classic, and judging its merits based on what they walked in hoping to see.”
  • My response to Chris’s response: “With any adaptation, a pertinent question to ask is whether it is faithful to the original. That’s not necessarily a question of traditionalist versus radical …”

Already our old sidekick Barry Johnson of Arts Dispatch, who put in considerable time in the theater critic’s chair at the Big O, has chipped in with some intriguing thoughts at Coleman’s blog. Give ‘er a look.


Nicolas Mignard, “Portrait of Molière as Julius Ceasar,” 1658. Musée Carnavalet, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Link: suddenly, it’s Moliere time in PDX

David Margulies as the hypochondriac Argan and Sharonlee McLean as the sassy and practical servant Toinette in "The Imaginary Invalid." Photo: Owen Carey/Portland Center Stage.

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Scatter spent his Friday and Saturday nights at the theater — first at Portland Center Stage, for the opening of its version of Moliere‘s The Imaginary Invalid; then at the little Shoebox Theater, where Twilight Repertory Theatre had just opened its own version of The Doctor Despite Himself. Two utterly different productions, on vastly differing scales, with one link beyond Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere’s given name) himself: the medical profession gets the bum’s rush.

Mr. Scatter reviewed the two shows in this morning’s editions of The Oregonian. Read it on the How We Live cover, or online here at Oregon Live.


David Margulies as the hypochondriac Argan and Sharonlee McLean as the sassy and practical servant Toinette in “The Imaginary Invalid.” Photo: Owen Carey/Portland Center Stage.

On beyond Twelfth Night: upstaged

"Malvolio and the Countess," 1859. Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), engraved by R. Staines. Wikimedia Commons.

By Bob Hicks

Yes, it’s over. Today is January 6, Epiphany, the day after Twelfth Night, traditional final day of the Christmas season, complete with twelve lords a-leaping and a partridge in a pear tree. Salute them in the rear view mirror, say a fond farewell, and let’s move on.

The diarist Samuel Pepys seemed more than ready to turn his attentions elsewhere on January 6, 1663, when he recorded this among other observations of the day: “So to my brother’s, where Creed and I and my wife dined with Tom, and after dinner to the Duke’s house, and there saw Twelfth Night acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day.”

Design by Rachel Ann Lindsay; Typography by Michael Buchino; Art direction by Francesca RestrepoPepys had notoriously little patience for Shakespeare and his fripperies. What might he have thought, then, of Constance Congdon’s adaptation of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid, with David Margulies as the hypochondriacal Argan? We haven’t seen it (it opens next Friday, January 14, as Portland’s theater Second Season picks up speed) but the whispers blowing in from backstage are that it’s heavy on the flatulence jokes. Ah, the holy trinity of bodily-function comedy: Beavis and Butthead, South Park, Moliere.

Second Season gets off and running Friday night when Artists Repertory Theatre opens Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts. The cast includes Bill Geisslinger and Linda K. Alper, a couple of top-rank actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which opens its new season in late February. And the crossovers continue. OSF opens its production of Letts’s biggest hit, August: Osage County, in April. And the festival opens its own version of The Imaginary Invalid — this one adapted by Oded Gross and director Tracy Young, with the excellent David Kelly as Argan — in February.

Continue reading On beyond Twelfth Night: upstaged

Ashland 4: There’s Goldoni in those hills!

Truffaldino (Mark Bedard) takes a break. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Above: Truffaldino, the servant of two masters (Mark Bedard), takes a break from his dizzying existence. Inset below: The old tightwad Pantalone (David Kelly) is overjoyed at the prospect of receiving more gold. Photos: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival/2009.

Every season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival needs its lark, that well-turned show of comic wordplay that, while it may or may not also have more serious things on its mind, celebrates the wit and technique and sheer fun of the theater itself.

From the old days of Wild Oats and The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Taking Steps to the more recent likes of On the Razzle and The Philanderer and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, the festival has long delighted, and delighted its audience, in theatrical self-reference. Such plays speak to the magical duality of theater, and of art in general: It is of utmost seriousness, and of little consequence. The ability to defend and revel in its inconsequence is a matter of importance in a human society that is constantly expanding and shrinking its limits of permitted expression. In a culture where power calls the shots, the liberating qualities of comedy, which so often crumbles deceits beneath the prodding thumb of ridicule, can be more dangerous than tragedy.

Then again, maybe it’s all just fun.

Pantalone (David Kelly) is overjoyed at the prospect of receiving more gold. Photo by Jenny Graham.This season’s lark is The Servant of Two Masters, the 18th century Italian comedian Carlo Goldoni‘s own masterwork, in a world-premiere adaptation by Oded Gross and director Tracy Young from a literal translation by Beatrice Basso. It is, quite simply, more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Goldoni, who began his career in Venice and moved on to Paris in disgust over the state of theater in Italy, approached the old Italian form of commedia dell’arte through the prism of the French master Moliere and looked ahead to the 20th century collaborations of Dario Fo and Franca Rame. What he achieved was a marvel of comic construction that is at once as tight as a well-tuned drum and as loose as a good jazz improvisation.

Commedia is essentially a form of street theater, with stock characters who are familiar to the audience and who play to form but vary the details to fit the time and place. Thus commedia was always traditional and always as fresh as a daily scandal sheet. Moliere took the form and translated it into literature. Fo and Rame kept the literary qualities but took things back (at least metaphorically) to the streets.

The Shakespeare Festival’s updating of The Servant of Two Masters keeps the action on the stage but with a more than vigorous nod to the trials, tribulations and absurdities of contemporary life beyond the theater walls. You can’t exactly call this Poor Theatre: Despite the Great Recession that this show lightly mocks, the festival is a well-endowed company, and it loves to use the technical gadgets that money can buy. But this production’s emphasis is definitely on the illusions of smallness: the things that a troupe of talented actors with a ragbag of tricks can achieve. And for the festival it’s stripped down: just a stack of small risers in the center of the theater in the round, plus poppings-out from platforms at the four corners of the small New Theatre. Christal Weatherly’s brightly witty patchwork costumes carry the day. (I’m especially fond of the Dottore’s improvised academic mortarboard, made from an LP jacket for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s album Whipped Cream and Other Delights.)

How much of this Servant of Two Masters is Goldoni and how much is his latter-day adapters? Certainly the plot, a lightly silly clothes hanger of a thing designed to hold the asides and physical bits in place, is Goldoni’s. Truffaldino, the servant (Mark Bedard), shows up in Venice just as Pantalone’s daughter Clarice and a fop named Silvio are preparing to be married. Truffaldino is in service to Federigo, who is actually Federigo’s sister Beatrice in disguise, who is seeking her beloved Florindo, who may or may not have murdered the real Federigo, and who arrives in town and also hires Truffaldino as his servant, and …

There’s no use giving out any more of the plot. It matters, but only when you’re watching. Let’s just say it’s tangled, and ridiculous, and highly amusing. As for the rest, while Gross and Young have taken huge liberties with the writing (and while a certain amount of improvisation works into every performance), it’s clearly in the spirit of Goldoni and commedia. Like Bill Cain’s new play Equivocation, The Servant of Two Masters refers liberally to other shows in the current season and beyond: When one of the characters shudders at a mention of “The Scottish Play,” romantic hero  Elijah Alexander blinks in confusion and replies, “Brigadoon?”

You can’t be this loose on stage without first being tight (no, that’s not a reference to drinking in the rehearsal hall), and this show is a marvel of collaborative craftsmanship. The language is quick and sharp and from the front of the mouth; the action is fleet and sure-footed; the shtick is rigorously rehearsed; the stylized flourishes are easy and exaggerated; the whole thing roars by like a paisley toy locomotive.

Topping off the joy of this Servant of Two Masters and letting it take flight is what theater folk call “breaking down the fourth wall” and civilians call simply “playing with the audience.” Bedard and others banter with people in the crowd, cadge candy and sandwiches, flirt, mock, sit down and chat. Pretty soon the audience is shouting back at the actors, hissing, crying out warnings and suggestions, and generally laughing like hyenas in a room full of helium.

You just don’t see that sort of thing in Macbeth. Even when the witches — pretty stock characters, themselves — are cackling their silly incantations over their smelly stewpot.


Clarice (Kjerstine Rose Anderson) and Beatrice(Kate Mulligan), disguised as Federigo, come to a new understanding. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Clarice (Kjerstine Rose Anderson) and Beatrice (Kate Mulligan), disguised as Federigo, come to a new understanding. Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival/2009.