Moliere is modern and cool
Seabury Hall Performing Arts tackles farcical genius
“Are you cool, classy, part of the in-crowd?” asks Todd Van Amburgh, director of the upcoming Seabury Hall Performing Arts production of “The Wanna-Be Gentleman.” This modern version of Moliere’s classic comedy, “The Bourgeois Gentleman,” is the farcical tale of a man who has money but not the respect of the cool crowd. In an effort to be well-respected, he spends his fortune on whatever will make him stylish. Easily taken advantage of, his family conspires an outlandish intervention.
“Moliere basically invented the sitcom,” says Van Amburgh. “His plays always show a family dealing with the excesses of one of its members, and the lengths they go to break the spell he’s under.”
The Seabury production will be performed in three-quarter-round and placed approximately in Moliere’s era with period costumes designed by Andre Morissette.
“Andre stretches the sense of time period,” says Van Amburgh, “From echoes of Moliere’s 17th-century fops to modern takes from today and recent decades. It’s very fun.”
Van Amburgh, who also designed the set, discussed the intimacy of a three-quarter-round thrust stage.
“I love the intimacy and impact we can get,” he explained. “It wraps the audience around the action, helps them to hear the language and energizes the actors.”
I asked him why he chose Moliere for his students this season.
“When I directed Moliere’s ‘The Learned Ladies’ with students seven years ago, it worked out really well,” he shared. “Because Moliere’s plays take place in a family home, the parent-child relationships are understandable to our students. Since then, I’ve been looking for another Moliere play with the same great casting flexibility — enough good roles for women as there are for men. The other reason is that as a school, we can, and should, expose them (the students) to the classics that they can understand and do well with.”
Moliere’s own life, in some ways, mirrored the leading male characters of his farces. Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin into a typically bourgeois family — his father was a valet to King Louis XIII at the Palace of Versailles. Groomed to work with his father, Jean-Baptise instead pursued a theater career, eventually founding his own company. When the theater went bankrupt, he was briefly sent to debtor’s prison and shortly thereafter began using the one-word stage name of Moliere. It has been speculated that it was in effort to spare his father the shame of his financial failure and so he could continue his pursuit of a theater career.
In the “The Wanna-Be Gentleman,” a rich but uncultured merchant (Carver Glomb) decides he wants to be a gentleman and so he employs a team of personal trainers (Shelby Ferrier, Bailey Dalzell, Cleo Borthwick and Zachary Kubo) and high-class fashionistas or fops (Camille Erdman and Carl Molinaro) to refine him. The mayhem causes his wife (Marley Mehring) and a pair of scheming servants (Jacob Akana and Gabi Cote) to intervene for the sake of his daughter’s (Sierra Lewis) marriage to her fiance (Danny Judge).
I asked Van Amburgh if this Moliere farce was still relatable to a 21st-century audience?
“Still relatable? Let’s see . . . the play is about a rich, uncultured merchant who needs validation from the elite and who is incredibly self-absorbed about masking those insecurities. Sound like anyone you know?”
Roughly 100 years before Moliere created the French farce, Italy’s commedia dell’arte was the fashionable form of comedy. Similar to modern day improv comedy troupes, commedia artists were small bands of traveling actors that frequently made up their dialogue and song lyrics in the moment.
The Kamehameha Schools Maui Drama Club does not incorporate improvisation in their production of “Androcles and the Lion,” but they competently demonstrate traditional commedia dell’arte.
Entering the theater in song with hand-held instruments, six players stroll through the audience in 16th-century garments to begin their play within a play. The small cast compliments each other proficiently, much like a well-travelled renaissance actors’ troupe might. Particularly adept in this cartoonish comedic style is Cullen Mitchell as the braggadocio Captain and Tehoni Nae’ole as the sinister miser Pantalone. Maverick Akana as Androcles the Roman slave displays a relaxed stage presence and brings an inviting everyman personality to the leading role. As the love-struck young sweethearts, Jaimelee Felipe and Taylor Watanabe play Lelio and Isabella with all the silly, melodramatic flair required. Taytum Herrick as the Lion gives a delightfully charming performance and also doubles by opening the show with prologue in rhyme.
The entirety of “Androcles and the Lion” is a fast-moving rhyming fairy tale with musical interludes and all the absurdity of classical physical theater. Just as Moliere’s farces might resemble sitcoms like “Three’s Company,” commedia can remind you of the Three Stooges. The comedic plot and its characters might also make one think of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Wonderful costumes, masks and a small colorful set add a professional quality to this high school production. Intended as children’s theater performed by teenagers, very young children should especially enjoy this 60-minute one-act play.
* Kamehameha Schools Drama Club concludes “Androcles and the Lion,” directed by Camille Romero, under the musical direction of Tana Larson. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani. Admission is free to all Kamehameha Schools productions.
Faustwork Mask Theatre presents “The Mask Messenger.” Described as “commedia Americana” by FMT founder Rob Faust, “The Mask Messenger” is physical theater and comedy featuring a menagerie of characters presented in vignettes ranging from comic to poignant to bizarre.
Faust creates characters based on explorations in the art of the mask, perfectly matched with precise body movements that delight audiences of all ages with a unique synthesis of theater, physical comedy, music, dance and poetry.
* Performance is 7:30 tonight in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $28 with 10 percent discounts for MACC members and half price for kids under 12 (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets, go to the box office, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Adaptations Dance Theater presents the third annual “Dance Maui 2017,” a festival showcasing Maui’s dance organizations as one community. This year’s lineup includes ADT (modern dance), Akari Ueoka and Izanai Yosakoi (classical Japanese dance), Cox + Larson Darshan Dance Project (Indian Odissi dance), Haley Bowman (contemporary dance), Jaidah Terry (contemporary ballet), Maui Argentine Tango Group, Maui Aerial Arts (aerial dance), PureMotionZ / S.T.O. ProductionZ (contemporary dance), Karyne Daniels (hula), Samba Maui with the Village Pulse Dancers (Congolese Dance), The Soma Aina Project (contact improvisation) and the dancers of ” ‘Ulalena.”
* Performance is at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at Keopuolani Regional Park Amphitheater. Open grass seating tickets are $12 and children 10 years and younger are free of charge. Low-back beach chair or blanket is recommended. Free parking is available at War Memorial Stadium. For information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.adaptationsdancetheater.com
The Maui Arts and Cultural Center presents “Alan Clements Uncensored: Spiritually Incorrect.” Clements asks “Are mindfulness, meditation and indoctrination different? Are Trump, ISIS and the globalization of corporate totalitarianism the same?” Maui Beat columnist Jon Woodhouse says of Clements, “Blend a former Buddhist monk with Noam Chomsky, Lenny Bruce and a hyper-spiritual Terrence McKenna and you get a sense of Alan Clements’ hilarious, brilliant and deliciously irreverent one-man performance.”
* Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $31 to $41 (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets for any MACC event, go to the box office, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.