PARIS — When Molière first offered “Tartuffe,” in 1664, Louis XIV is alleged to have laughed his head off on the play’s satire of non secular zealots. The zealots in query have been much less amused: “Tartuffe” was swiftly censored and solely re-emerged 5 years later, in an expanded and softened model.
The 1669 “Tartuffe,” in 5 acts, is the basic play everybody in France is aware of, a couple of pious fraud who weasels his method right into a bourgeois household’s dwelling and makes an attempt to steal each spouse and fortune. But this month, 400 years after the delivery of Molière, the unique — or a reconstruction, at the very least — returned to the stage in a glossy and moody manufacturing directed by Ivo van Hove for the Comédie-Française.
“Tartuffe” opened France’s yearlong celebration of Molière’s quadricentennial, an occasion that’s no small matter for the Comédie-Française: The home’s everlasting ensemble was born in 1680 from the fusion of Molière’s personal appearing troupe and the gamers of the Hôtel de Bourgogne. The Comédie-Française considers Molière its founding father, and ensemble members know their method round his wittiest strains like nobody else.
Van Hove at the very least gave them one thing new. The 1664 model of “Tartuffe” was recreated a number of years in the past by two researchers, Georges Forestier and Isabelle Grellet, utilizing Molière’s personal sources. To grasp what the play may need been like in three acts, they went again to commedia dell’arte and different Seventeenth-century tales, which the plot of “Tartuffe” partly mimics.
The result’s a genuinely intriguing different to a well-known narrative, however it would take additional stagings to disclose its potential, as a result of van Hove’s directing decisions are idiosyncratic. His “Tartuffe” has the acquainted look of many van Hove productions: darkish and minimalistic, right here with no wings on the perimeters of the stage and a metallic platform alongside its size for entrances and exits.
The transitions are particularly awkward, with asinine titles projected onto a display (samples: “Is Madam proper?”; “Love, or submission?”) and bombastic sound results marking the start of recent episodes. A lot of the solid put on fits; at instances, once they stiffly convene for household conversations, it feels as if Molière’s characters have landed in the midst of the HBO sequence “Succession.”
It’s a disgrace, as a result of there’s a lot of worth in seeing a few of the play’s characters by way of a brand new lens. Tartuffe, for example, is extra clearly a destitute determine than typical. Christophe Montenez — who was additionally a spotlight in “The Damned,” one other van Hove manufacturing for the Comédie-Française — is fascinatingly unusual within the function, without delay lonely and creepy.
But the actors wrestle with Molière’s textual content, partly due to van Hove’s lethal critical method. All through the efficiency I attended, “Tartuffe,” which was written as a comedy, elicited little laughter from the viewers; when it got here, it felt like an automated response to acquainted strains, somewhat than a mirrored image of what was occurring onstage.
Van Hove additionally sees a love story the place there isn’t one. In his manufacturing, Tartuffe doesn’t simply attempt to deceive Orgon, the person of the home, and seduce Elmire, his spouse; Elmire really falls for Tartuffe, an absurd growth since she is the one to uncover his hypocrisy on the finish of the play. This forces Marina Arms, as Elmire, into an acrobatic efficiency through which she by turns refuses Tartuffe, provides in, and silently apologizes for betraying him. Tartuffe verbally abuses Elmire on two events (to the purpose that she cowers in a nook) earlier than she snuggles as much as him. Is it Stockholm syndrome? In any case, this diminishes what is usually a robust, and really humorous, feminine character.
At the least this “Tartuffe” is a reminder of simply how mordant and fashionable Molière’s tackle non secular piety was. Because the church’s anger over the play confirmed, this was a controversial place within the Seventeenth century. Alternatively, Racine and Corneille, who make up French theater’s trinity of basic playwrights with Molière, each wrote non secular performs dramatizing their religion according to church dogma.
These performs are not often seen as we speak, however “Polyeucte,” a 1641 work by Corneille impressed by the lifetime of a Christian martyr, is again onstage on the Espace Bernanos, a Roman Catholic cultural middle. It depicts the non secular conversion of Polyeucte, a nobleman, and the preliminary despair of his spouse, Pauline, and his father-in-law, whom the Roman Empire has tasked with persecuting Christians. Directed by a veteran actress, Rafaële Minnaert, the manufacturing, an easy supply of Corneille’s textual content in Roman-inspired costumes, contrasts sharply with “Tartuffe.”
Whereas the solid is commonly overemphatic, Aloysia Delahaut carries the day as a dignified Pauline. For almost the complete play, Corneille’s rhymed alexandrines are skillful sufficient to make you suppose “Polyeucte” warrants extra performances. Then, on the finish, each Pauline and her father abruptly convert to Christianity, their robust stance in opposition to it forgotten. This makes “Polyeucte” really feel preachy — a cardinal sin by up to date requirements — which helps clarify why it, and different non secular works, are so little carried out.
Nonetheless, up to date theatermakers are discovering methods to weave faith into topical dramas. The playwright and director Hakim Djaziri tackles the topic particularly overtly as a method of understanding main political debates in France. After “Unbalanced,” a play about his personal youthful non secular radicalization in an underprivileged Paris suburb, he has turned to the real-life story of a white lady who converts to Islam in “Audrey, the Diary of a Convert,” at the moment at La Scène Libre theater.
In a sequence of well constructed vignettes, we see Audrey develop up with an alcoholic mom and a violent stepfather, in search of which means within the faith of a buddy whose glad household she admires. But quickly sufficient, she is roped right into a violent tackle Islamism by characters she meets on-line. She leads to Syria, because the spouse of a Frenchman who has vowed to struggle for the Islamic State.
It’s a lot to get by way of in 90 minutes, and the Syrian scenes particularly really feel overly expository, however Djaziri delivers a number of emotion with the performances of his small but sensible solid. Karina Testa captures Audrey’s childlike want for love and which means, whereas Arthur Gomez shines in a variety of characters, from associates of Audrey’s to extremists.
As they do each night time, Djaziri and his actors stayed onstage after the efficiency I caught for a dialogue with the viewers. He spoke candidly of his personal expertise of radicalization, and stated he felt compelled to reply, by way of theater, to Islamophobia in France’s public sphere. With “Audrey,” he does this subtly, by depicting the peaceable sides of Islam in addition to the hypocrisy of its radicals. In any case, the Tartuffes of as we speak want their very own performs, too.
Tartuffe or the Hypocrite. Directed by Ivo van Hove. Comédie-Française, by way of April 24.
Polyeucte. Directed by Rafaële Minnaert. Espace Bernanos, by way of Feb. 13.
Audrey, the Diary of a Convert. Directed by Hakim Djaziri. La Scène Libre, by way of March 26.