By Dana Lacey
If you want to fully enjoy Tarragon Theatre‘s production of Molière, be sure to bone up on Paris’ theatrical history first. I thought that a quick stroll through Molière’s Wikipedia page would be enough research to prepare me for a play about his life. I’ve even seen and reviewed and enjoyed Tartuffe, his most famous play.
The laughs start in the first few seconds of the play, and the characters are all instantly lovable or loathsome. Ignorant of a few key facts, I felt a few steps behind for the first half of the play. To save you the embarrassment:
- Molière was the King of France’s playwright of choice, and Paris’ most famous comedic writer.
- Jean Racine was Molière’s apprentice, but left to write tradgey. He became puppet of the clergy who wanted Molières racy, satiric and revealing plays banned. They commission him to write a play with a different set of values (piety and self-sacrifice is in, joy is out.)
- Racine goes on to become the King’s new playwright and Paris’ most famous tragedy writer.
My friend lost the story until intermission too. There were lots of subtle scene changes, which looked amazing but took away from the plot at times: it took me a while to catch on that this is a story about Molière, narrated by his enemy (Racine) and told as a mash of re-imagined scenes, historical fact and bits of both their plays. Weave in a side story where other historical characters I knew little about make a bet about how tragedy will always conquer happiness or something.
But after intermission, the play really picks up (tip: read the program BEFORE the play.) Richard McMillan played an outstanding and convincing Molière–witty, giggly, painfully overdramatic yet secretly wise. And Rick Roberts as Racine performed the best adult temper tantrum I have ever seen. The loud, jumping, screaming kind we all wish we could get away with. The pair’s chemistry was undeniable (Racine pleads to Moliere to give up comedy writing for ‘more serious theatre.’ Molière bites back: “oh yes its far more prestigious to make the audience suffer.”) My friend loved the play too; “the profanity was fantastic.”
All in all, a good way to spend the afternoon. If you’re educated enough.
– Molière runs until December 28 at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto)
– Shows Tue-Saturday at 8 p.m and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
– Ticket prices are $32 general admission Tue-Thur and weekend matinees 2:30, $38 Friday and Saturday night. $20 for students, $27 for seniors. They are available at the box office by calling 416.531.1827, or online