The reopening of Paris theaters has come at just the right time for the Comédie Française, known fondly as La Maison de Molière, as 2022 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of the comic playwright. To mark this major date, the Comédie Française is devoting an entire season to Molière’s dramatic output.
Unless you booked several months ago or are a subscriber, trying to secure tickets is a near-impossible task, but I am assured that if you wait patiently at the theater an hour beforehand, returns are often available, perhaps even more so than usual with the inevitable Covid-related cancellations some audience members will be obliged to make.
Not willing to take the risk of missing out on a seat on the final evening of my latest Paris sojourn, I opted to go to the live relay of Molière’s L’Avare (The Miser) from the Comédie Française to cinemas throughout France last week. Many readers will be familiar with the now-regular live transmission of operas and plays, and it must be said that, while the excitement of the live experience of theater and music is inevitably missing, the chance to see close-ups of actors or singers from the comfort of a cinema seat does have its advantages.
One of my most frequent complaints about Molière productions at the Comédie Française over the years has concerned the unnecessarily somber, reverential readings of his comedies. Recently, however, this lugubrious tradition has been reversed, and a French friend who is a subscriber assures me that this year the productions of Tartuffe, Dom Juan and Le Malade Imaginaire are particularly good.
This production of L’Avare – directed by Lilo Baur, an actor and director who has worked with the phenomenally successful Complicité troupe in Britain and with director Peter Brook in Paris – focuses on the play‘s humor and is all the better for it. The miser, Harpagon (played with great comic verve by Laurent Stocker) was clearly inspired by Donald Trump, and the action is set mostly on a golf course (cue lots of visual gags involving golf buggies and putting).
The ensemble acting is fast-paced, with charming performances by Élise Lhomeau as Harpagon’s daughter Élise and and Jean Chevalier as his son Cléante. The various love interests – Valère, played by Clément Bresson, and Anna Cervinka’s Mariane – are also strong, as are the servants and lawyers who surround Harpagon. If one or two ideas fall flat (such as Mariane’s drunken lurching about the stage just at the moment of the great reveal at the end of the play), there were enough laughs emanating from the live theater audience and those around me in the cinema to signal the comic success of this production.
When I am next in Paris, I will definitely be turning up at La Maison de Molière in the hope of securing returns for another production. I strongly suggest that you do the same!Favorite