Los Angeles, California – “WWMD?” What would Moliere do? This is the premise of the charmingly unique one-man show, Moliere Than Thou, written, directed, produced, and performed by theatre aficionado Tim Mooney as Moliere. The day of this particular performance, Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere was sharing the day with William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, both of whom died on April 23, 1616, but the Moliere I saw was far from dead. Au contraire. This day, this Moliere was a man with a mission.
Moliere Than Thou finds Moliere left without a cast when all of his fellow performers happen to consume “the same sort of shellfish” at a local public inn. He’s all that’s left standing (he had the chicken…) and there have been tickets sold and a full house. Because the idea of refunding the box office cannot be considered, Moliere offers to perform a “greatest hits” of sorts by becoming a one-man show that leads the audience (which occasionally participates) through a hilarious succession of his favorite speeches which he’s written and that trace his illustrious career. Portraying these characters from his most popular plays with his narration (in character) between the monologues, what could have been a daunting feat becomes an energetically engaging and enthralling event. Mooney, himself, plays Moliere, who performs routines from Tartuffe, Don Juan, The Doctor In Spite of Himself, The Precious Young Maidens, The Misanthrope and The School for Wives, among others. He seamlessly shifts from one character to another with an exchange of wig or waistcoat whilst maintaining an ongoing narration that keeps us so involved that we don’t even notice…until there’s a new character — until “he” starts to talk to us through the monologue.
This entire event was orchestrated by the Department of Language & Culture at Mount St. Mary’s College. (Yes, Virginia, there still is the study of language and culture!) First of all, there was the setting. Mt. St. Mary’s is one of Los Angeles’s most breathtakingly beautiful colleges that is perched on the hill right behind the Getty Center. Upon entering the foyer of the theatre, there were tables set up offering delicious French morsels to set the mood before the performance. The show itself has flawless production values which began right there in the foyer. While enjoying un petit gout, there was the enchanting music of the period wafting from the theatre — it was the always be-bop friendly Swingle Singers scatting A Cappella Amadeus. Their whimsical yet accurate music invited all of us into the theatre. The stage was bare except for an aged theatrical trunk draped with some bits of theatrical paraphernalia. How ever did Moliere get himself into this sort of thing? I only had to ask Tim Mooney himself.
Melissa Berry: Okay Tim, how did this ever come about? Moliere on the road doing one-nighters? He’s hardly a rock star!
Tim Mooney: With 13 Moliere plays in my portfolio, I realized I had been writing material faster than theatres could produce it, and that the best way to introduce this work to the world would be to create a play in which some of Moliere’s funniest speeches could be explored.
MB: Writing material? But Moliere had already written it all.
Tim Mooney: That’s certainly true, and there are many English translations, but I wanted to somehow make it more accessible and audience-friendly. I found that writing it in iambic pentameter verse (not unlike Shakespeare) with end rhymes was a very useable form. With end rhymes, I’m able to involve the audience in what that final rhyming word might be to finish the thought. Speaking as Moliere between the monologues, I use prose which is helpful in defining when Moliere is speaking and when the character is speaking.
MB: I noticed that those “end rhymes” often exhibit an advanced case of ribaldry.
Tim Mooney: Well, just think about the subject matter: cuckolding, randy wags, pious hypocrites, lechery, and debauchery. This form of verse gives Moliere the perfect opportunity to take a few deft stabs at some of his enemies: the doctors, the lawyers, and the sanctimonious hypocrites who would attack him throughout the years.
MB: Gee, some things just never change, do they?! In one instance, you mention the Humours, and another about someone who made the poor choice of going to the dreaded doctor who would “over-bleed” him. Are you ever concerned that your audience may not be up on their 17th century medicine?
TM: My sense is that the process of “bleeding” has been mocked enough to the point that it’s entered the modern lexicon. Steve Martin did a terrific routine on SNL some years back as “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” in which the solution to every health problem was to “bleed” the victim. Beyond that, though, I think the very fact that someone posing as a doctor is being taken seriously as they describe obscure remedies for unfamiliar complaints — that’s enough to let the audience know that the health solutions are entirely bogus, and at the very least they will try to imagine just what all this “bleeding” and “humor” talk could possibly be about. From there, they are likely to store it in the back of their minds, even if they don’t go to the Internet to look it up. So yes, sometimes the laughs on this stuff are big, sometimes they’re understated, but either way, I’m filling in some of the unfamiliar recesses of the audience’s understanding. They may laugh at their own recognition of an impostor who’s just looking to cop a cheap feel, or they may laugh at the entire discipline of medicine gone horribly wrong, and then start to question just how much doubletalk they encounter in this and other areas of their lives. Either way, they still laugh, and perhaps they learn at the same time.
Mr. Mooney has accomplished his goal in myriad ways, gauging from the audience’s reactions. Considering the tenor of most of today’s theatrical offerings, it was lovely to be entertained instead of beaten over the head with profundity (and profanity). It was also a relief to find out that the study of Language and Culture still exists, because pondering over this had left me betwixt and between, not to mention flummoxed. Until then, anon.
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