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The Bourgeois Gentilhomme 

Thursday, Nov 13 2008
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You’d think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation — overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current “we are the world” emotional gush would lead one to believe. It’s in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière’s 1670 comedy – a satire of snobbery and social climbing – will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe’s fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offers the caution that — though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy — perhaps we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulations. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition by the insane master of the house of an arranged marriage for his crestfallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel’s visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully’s music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing “tears of a clown” masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, mocking style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 during the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks – despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy began playing again as it should. In fact, I haven’t seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik’s Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld’s King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression – every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain’s smug self-satisfaction, which is embedded with delirious ignorance. City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (310) 319-9939.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Starts: Nov. 7. Continues through Feb. 22, 2008
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Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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