Following his first semester as Westmont College’s global ambassador in the performing arts, John Blondell, theatrical magus extraordinaire, returns to Westmont to take up his duties as professor of theater arts and director of several of the Westmont College Festival Theatre sparkling productions, starting a radically rethought staging of “The Miser, or the School for Lies (1668)” by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-73), universally known as Molière.
Blondell will direct a cast that includes Rory Nguyen (Harpagon), Alaina Dean (Cleanthe), Joel Michelson (Elise), Emiliana Brewer (Valerie), Noah Nims (Marianne), Emily Derr (Anselme), Ford Sachsenmaier (Frosine), Emmie Matthews (Simon), Maegan Randolph (Jacques), Ash Vanyo (La Fleche), Juliana Moore (Dame Claude), Ciena Fitzgerald (Brindavoine), and Claire Bassett (La Merluche).
“The Miser” is a play about a rich, skinflint parent who keeps his or her children in poverty and domestic bondage while planning marriages for them that bring tremendous profit to the parent, as well as a youthful attractive spouse.
Meanwhile, the children, cleverer than the parent for whom they have zero affection, have made other arrangements for their future.
Blondell observes: “This play, like all of Molière’s, exposes characters pushed to play elaborate double-games, in order to survive in a materialistic society. Love and Money! How can we get it and how can we get more? Everyone lies, everyone tricks, everyone deceives, and all for their own particular ends.
“I felt that the situations, atmospheres, acting opportunities, and themes would be good ones to tackle for our department, and the theme of the obsessive quest for money, and the consequences that result, is a good theme for any day and time.
“Lovers want to get married, a parent wants to hoard wealth and obstruct those marriage plans, and everyone around those characters scheme and plot and contrive to get what they think is best for them. In addition, this play is just plain great fun.”
Ever the iconoclast, Blondell has inverted the genders in the play, creating an alternate, matriarchal universe where the conventions, stereotypes and relationships exist in much the same way as our culture, but are simply inverted.
“The inversion causes an essential estrangement, and a way to imagine, reflect and enjoy differently,” says the director. “What results is a kind of social satire, which helps create a richly textured, multivalent comic universe that I hope will be as irresistible as it is eye-opening.”
When the “The Miser” opened, in 1668, the playwright and his company enjoyed the decisive protection of France’s King Louis XIV, who was then in the seventh year of his “personal rule.”
(Although Louis had become king on the death of his father in 1643, when he was five, it was Cardinal Mazarin who did the actual governing, until his death in 1661 — as Cardinal Richelieu governed France for Louis XIII.)
After Louis XIV began his personal rule, France became relatively boring and free of the domestic disturbances that had marked Mazarin’s rule.
Even Louis’ revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had given Protestants the right to worship without government interference, provoked only local discomfort, and most Protestants either converted to Catholicism or left the country. He did so using the Putinesque rationale that there were not enough Protestants to make it worth while keeping the law on the books.
Louis also compelled most of his nobles to come and live in Versailles rather than remain on their estates where they could build coalitions and armies to use against him. At the same time, the bourgeoisie, who would not become politically conscious for another hundred years, flourished under Louis and his patronage.
As Voltaire found out to his cost, making fun of the nobility could be hazardous to your health, and Molière drew his characters from the bourgeoisie almost exclusively.
Plays about the ruling classes were the stuff of tragedy, not comedy, and even the tragedies tend to be once-removed, set in exotic places like Ceylon, Egypt, Spain, Venice or ancient Greece.
Molière took the line that all he had to do was open a window and he would find enough material for a hundred comedies. Comedy remains where Molière put it, in the midst of life: domestic, bourgeois life.
“The Miser,” plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25-26 and March 3-5, and at 2 p.m. March 5 at Westmont’s Porter Theatre. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and may be purchased online at www.westmont.edu/boxoffice.
The theater will require evidence of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of show date for all patrons who are not current students, faculty or staff. All patrons will be required to wear masks at all times when inside campus buildings.
The performers, taking part in approved county-mandated vaccination and testing protocols, will be unmasked for the performance. For more information, contact 805-565-7040.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.