Everyone knows Molière's greatest works, like Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, and The Miser, but he also wrote a few short plays that have fallen out of repertory. "The Molière Players" are an acting troupe who perform some of Molière's lesser-known works, and A Rehearsal at Versailles is their third production. Set at the King's palace, this one-act is about Molière's own acting troupe, who have only 45 minutes to rehearse a new play for the King!
The play is a biting satire about some of Molière's rivals in the 17th-century theatre scene. Or, rather, one must presume it to be biting satire, since it deals with long-dead French theatre celebrities. Much of the humor still holds up, such as actors showing up drunk to a rehearsal, or prima donnas whining about the size of their parts, but a lot of the humor is no longer as sharp as it once was. While the theatre archetypes still have relevance to the modern day, seeing this play 300 years after it was written is like watching Forbidden Broadway in the year 2303 at the Olympus Mons Repertory Theatre on Mars.
The play is also mostly plotless, consisting of a string of skits and gags about the theatre, and of course a play within the play. The short running time and large cast (12 characters!) made it difficult to develop any one of them beyond a caricature. Compounding the lack of character development in the script is the fact that many of the roles were played as overblown French stereotypes, including guffawing Maurice Chevaliers. On top of that there is the play within the play, where Molière's actors parody the actors of ANOTHER acting troupe, and there was little difference between the over-the-top characterizations used to portray Molière's troupe and the way the OTHER troupe was portrayed. The only sizable part is Molière (he wrote himself into the story). Bob Brader actually made an amusing latter-day Molière, and was single-handedly responsible for keeping the show's pace up.
This particular production of A Rehearsal at Versailles was set in the 20th century, but the exact time was uncertain due to inconsistent and eclectic costuming, which ranged from a sexy raver-girl in fishnets to a guy in a top hat (?). The time and place were further confused by the total lack of sets and, because it was performed in an outdoor theatre with only matinees, there was also a complete absence of theatrical lighting.
Director Nicole Lerario seemed to sense that the material was a bit dated, and filled the stage with comic business. Because of the outdoor venue, there was no "off-stage," and as such the cast was always in the background engaging in comic activities -- but this background action frequently proved to be a distraction from Molière's dialog, which was going on downstage.
While this isn't Molière's greatest play, it is rather amusing, and theatre geeks will find this production to be a rare chance to see a little-known work by one of the great classic comedy writers.
(Also featuring: Michaelangelo Barasorda, Ross Beschler, Amy Caitlin Carr, Amanda Cronk, Rasheed Hinds, Carrie Johnson, Christian Koop, Britt Lafield, Roger Nasser, Tamara Wright, and Marla Yost.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby