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Martyrdom, conversion and moral fraud: Religion takes center stage

PARIS – When Molière first performed “Tartuffe” in 1664, Louis XIV is said to have laughed at the play’s satire of religious zealots. Enthusiastic respondents were less pleased: “Tartuffe” was quickly censored and only reappeared five years later, in an expanded and soft version.

The play “Tartuffe” of 1669, a classic that everyone in France knows, is about a pious con man who wanders into the home of a bourgeois family and tries to steal both his wife and property. produce. This month, however, 400 years after Molière’s birth, the original – or at least a remake – returned to the stage in a slick and moody production directed by Ivo van Hove for Comédie- Française.

“Tartuffe” opens the year-long celebration of France Molière’s quadricentennial, which was no small event for the Comédie-Française: The house’s permanent ensemble was born in 1680 from the merger of Molière’s acting troupe and the players of the Hôtel de Bourgogne. Comédie-Française considers Molière to be his founding father, and team members know his moves like no other.

Van Hove at least gave them something new. The 1664 version of “Tartuffe” was recreated a few years ago by researchers Georges Forestier and Isabelle Grellet, using Molière’s own sources. To understand what the play might be like in three acts, they turned to commedia dell’arte and other stories of the 17th century, which the plot of “Tartuffe” partly mimics.

The result is a really compelling alternative to a familiar story, but it will need further delays to reveal. its potential, because van Hove’s steering choices are all idiosyncratic. His “Tartuffe” has the familiar look and feel of many of van Hove’s works: dark and minimalist, here there are no wings on either side of the stage and a metal pedestal along its length for the entrances and exit.

The transitions are particularly awkward, with asinine titles projected onto the screen (e.g., “Is that right, ma’am?”; “Love or submission?”) and flamboyant sound effects marking the start of new episodes. Most of the actors wore suits; sometimes, when they try to convene family conversations, it feels as if Molière’s characters have landed in the middle of the HBO series “The Succession.”

It’s a pity, because there’s a lot of value in seeing some of the play’s characters through a new lens. For example, Tartuffe is clearly a more destitute character than usual. Christophe Montenez – who is also a prominent character in “The Damned”, another van Hove work for Comédie-Française – the role is strange, lonely and creepy at the same time.

However, the actors struggled with Molière’s writing, in part because of van Hove’s deadly serious approach. Throughout the performance I attended, “Tartuffe,” written as a comedy, caused small laughter in the audience; When it arrives, it’s like an automatic response to familiar lines, rather than a reflection of what’s happening on stage.

Van Hove also sees a love story without. In his production, Tartuffe not only tries to fool Orgon, the man of the house, and seduce Elmire, his wife; Elmire actually falls in love with Tartuffe, an absurd development since she is the one who exposes his hypocrisy at the end of the play. This forces Marina Hands, as Elmire, into an acrobatic performance in which she in turn rejects Tartuffe, gives in, and silently apologizes for betraying him. Tartuffe cursed Elmire twice (to the point where she crouched in a corner) before she hugged him tightly. Is it Stockholm syndrome? In any case, this detracts from what is usually a strong and very funny female character.

At least this “Tartuffe” is a reminder of how modern and stubborn Molière practiced piety. As the church’s anger over the play shows, it was a controversial 17th-century position. On the other hand, Racine and Corneille, who make up the classic French theater trio with Molière , both wrote religious plays that dramatized their faith. consistent with the dogma of the church.

Such plays are rarely seen these days, but “Polyeucte,” a 1641 work by Corneille inspired by the life of a Christian martyr, is back on stage at Espace Bernanos, a cultural center Roman Catholic. It describes the religious conversion of Polyeucte, a nobleman, and the initial despair of his wife, Pauline, and his father-in-law, whom the Roman Empire had tasked with persecuting the believers. Christianity. Directed by veteran actress Rafaële Minnaert, Corneille’s straightforward production and distribution of the text in Roman-inspired costumes stands in stark contrast to “Tartuffe”.

While the cast is often overblown, Aloysia Delahaut plays the dignified Pauline day in and day out. For much of the play, Corneille’s rhyming alexandrines are clever enough to make you think “Polyeucte” warrants more performances. Then, in the end, both Pauline and her father abruptly converted to Christianity, their stance against it being forgotten. This makes “Polyeucte” feel preaching – a fundamental sin by contemporary standards – which helps explain why it, and other religious writings, is so rarely practiced.

However, contemporary playwrights are finding ways to incorporate religion into topical dramas. Playwright and director Hakim Djaziri addresses this issue particularly openly as a way of understanding the great political debates in France. After “Unbalanced,” a play about his youthful religious radicalization in an underprivileged Parisian suburb, he turns to the real-life story of a white woman who converts to Christianity. The act from “Audrey, the Diary of a Convert,” is currently at La Theater Scène Libre.

In a series of cleverly constructed motifs, we see Audrey grow up with an alcoholic mother and an abusive stepfather, searching for meaning in the religion of a happily married friend she loves. admire. Soon, however, she’s drawn into a violent act of Islamism by characters she meets online. She ended up in Syria, as the wife of a Frenchman who had sworn to fight for the Islamic State.

There’s a lot more to go through in the 90 minutes and the scenes in Syria in particular feel too gimmicky, but Djaziri delivers a lot of emotion with the performance of his small but stellar cast. Karina Testa captures Audrey’s childlike need for love and meaning, while Arthur Gomez shines in a variety of characters, from Audrey’s friends to extremists.

As they did every night, Djaziri and his actors stayed on stage after a performance I caught to discuss with the audience. He has been candid about his own experience of radicalization and says he feels compelled to react, through theater, to France’s public domain fear of Islamophobia. . With “Audrey,” he does this subtly, by depicting the pacifist aspects of Islam as well as the hypocrisy of Islam’s radicals. After all, today’s Tartuffes need their own plays, too.

Tartuffe or Hypocrisy. Directed by Ivo van Hove. Comédie-Française, through April 24.
Polyeucte. Directed by Rafaële Minnaert. Espace Bernanos, through February 13.
Audrey, Diary of a Converter. Directed by Hakim Djaziri. La Scène Libre, until March 26.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/27/theater/moliere-taertuffe-ivo-van-hove.html Martyrdom, conversion and moral fraud: Religion takes center stage

Fry Electronics Team

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