RUSSIAN PLAYWRIGHT BULGAKOV USES MOLIERE’S STORY AS A MIRROR OF HIS OWN
By Megan Leahy
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The Royal Comedians is Mikhail Bulgakov’s testament to the proverb ‘history repeats itself’. The play outlines Molière’s struggle as a critic of the Catholic Church in Seventeenth Century France, despite being backed by art enthusiast King Louis XIV. Bulgakov grew up in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revoltuion in Russia. Like Molière, he had the support of Stalin, but, like Molière, still could not escape punishment for protesting against the regime.
We meet Molière at the height of his career, having just performed his play The School of Wives at Paris’ Palais Royal and proud to have just completed his newest satire, Tartuffe. The latter work is a direct attack on the Catholic Church and the playwright is quickly accused of heresy. But Molière has the support of the art enthusiast King Louis XIV and the Church must tread carefully.
At the same time as this professional narrative, Molière falls in love and marries a much younger woman, all the while oblivious that she is the daughter of his old lover. The Archbishop of Paris slyly gets a hold of this piece of information and uses it to bring on Molière’s demise. The plot culminates with the playwright performing his own Imaginary Invalid, a man confused on his deathbed, poked and prodded at as he is misdiagnosed by a troop of foolish physicians.
The real highlight of Director László Marton’s production is the captivating recital of an excerpt from Tartuffe by Diego Matamoros (playing Molière in the role of the ostensibly pious prior) and Raquel Duffy (as Madeleine Béjart in the role of Elmire). Both Matamoros and Béjart give commanding performances throughout the production.
When he is on stage, it is impossible to take your eyes off Stuart Hughes strutting as the musketeer Marquis D’Orsini. Poised and charismatic, all the while making a mockery of himself, Hughes does justice to the character who supposedly serves as Molière’s Don Juan. Also worth mentioning, Gregory Prest and sidekick Daniel Williston, playing Louis XIV and his jester, The Honest Cobbler, respectively, provide the most laughs.
Victoria Wallace does a good job with costume design, but production falls short when it comes to Kevin Lamotte’s lighting and Richard Feren’s sound. Together their modern and sinister take on certain scenes – most aggressive when the Church’s secret police take the stage – are distracting and make the performance hard to both see and hear.
Overall the play is entertaining and gives some insight into Molière’s life and work. Bulgakov’s The Royal Comedians runs until September 21st at 50 Tank House Lane in the Distillery District. Soulpepper offers rush tickets for those 21 and under for $5. Youth Rush Tickets can be purchased at the box office 30 minutes before all performances. Regular student prices are $32