tartuffe at last

Well, things do keep happening, don't they?  I saw Tartuffe on Friday, October the 13th , at the Stratford Festival Theatre.  .Richard Wilbur, the American poet, whom I loved for his elegant, witty translations of Moliere plays, died on the 14th, at the age of 96. He was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (1957 and 19889), and U.S. Poet Laureate (1987-88), among other distinctions. I knew him for his Moliere plays, so well done at Stratford over the years.

 So I was surprised to see, on reading the program prior to the performance, that the translation of Tartuffe being used  was by someone new to me: Ranjit Bolt. b. 1954, Anglo-Indian, born in Manchester, a gifted writer and translator and an addicted gambler who cured himself of his addiction by writing limericks: A Lion was Learning  to Ski (2015).   He peddled it on the street.  It became a best-seller and made him famous, whereas before he was jet well-known. 

Poetry doesn't sell these days, you think.  Rajiit Bolt is quoted as saying that it does if it's funny.  Wilbur made it funny onstage.  Well, of course, you say,  it was Moliere: not old-fashioned, not old hat, but character-driven, and as fresh as tomorrow's milk.  Moliere's plays were written in alexandrines, rhyming 12-syllable lines that came to characterise French drama in English minds.  Wilbur handled them well - I think 10-syllable - but maybe iambic pentameter in Tartuffe's case, anyway classic and always with a kicker of a rhyme, witty and apt and surprising, delightful to listen to.

Bolt uses 8-syllable lines but still rhyming.    I read that his is a verse form verse known as trochaic octameter.   His wit and terribly (!) contemporary rhymes are not only contemporary but also profane.  According to the history of Bolt's Tartuffe translation, it was last revised in 2002.  Well, he (or someone?) had a lot to do with the script used by Stratford, with up-to-date Trumpisms, including covfefe!

What about the cast of the Stratford production?  Brilliant, great ensemble playing, and the director, Chris Abraham, gave them lots of leeway and lots of schtick. I'm so old, I remember Bill Hutt's Tartuffe, very different from the sleazy, outrageous con man Tom Rooney plays. Rooney is snake oil; Hutt promised salvation.  It's a bit of a surprise that Rooney's Tartuffe turns out to be such a shrewd rogue. He played coloured smoke and two-way mirrors up to that revelation and  you didn't realise he was that smart.   Hutt's performance as more subtle, and seemed more inhibited,  but it was more layered. Orgon (Graham Abbey), Tartuffe's dupe, is not so much an object of contempt for his blind intolerance of his family's objections but finally, of irritation.  All the players play their parts with frantic, despairing conviction.  The only one, Dorine, deliberately singled out by Moliere and deliberately, delightfully played by Anusree Roy (a published, award winning playwright herself) carries out her assigned role of gadfly to perfection. And I remember Pat Galloway. That's what happens. Great performances get locked in the treasure house of one's memory.

I note that Bolt did a translation of George Dandin, one of Moliere's lesser-known plays. About half a century ago, I did my own translation and adaptation, transporting 17th century France to 19th century rural Manitoba, with the eponymous peasant, George Dandin, transformed into  a  Metis, and the French aristocracy into French-from-France landed immigrants. I wrote songs for the production, that is, new lyrics set to French-Canadian tunes. It was produced by the Manitoba Theatre Centre, directed by John Hirsch, who invited the French-Canadian actors from Le Cercle Moliere, across the river in St. Boniface, to come and play. The show was a  hit, held over in Winnipeg and then touring southern Manitoba, a French-Canadian enclave. 

Long memories.  I'll be briefer next time.

tartuffe will have to wait

I will get to Tartuffe, (1664), Molière's play, one of the productions at the Stratford Festival Theatre this past summer. To my mind, it was the best of the summer crop, and that was a very good thing because it took my mind off my personal pain. 

For some reason my sciatica, about which I am in constant denial, flared up worse than I have ever experienced, in my right leg, from hip to ankle.  I had trouble limping to the pool in the morning and did not swim my full half hour. I took pills to get through the day: a lot of sitting in the car to and from Stratford and, of course, the play.  That's major; I do not take pills. I had some in the cabinet, dating from my leg trauma two years ago when I fell and ripped open my left leg below the knee, to the bone - thirty- three stitches on the outside, I don't know how many on the inside, and four different courses of antibiotics to beat the infection.  I took three pills, each one lasting 6 hours, to get through the day. Tartuffe also helped with the pain. 

But the next day I was tired, very very tired, still limping but a little more limber. Today, on the third day, I'm walking very well and I went for a brisk walk to prove it, as brisk as I can be, that is. And that's when I realised, no - acknowledged - another lesson learned in this new country I find myself in, the country of old age ("from whose bourne no traveller returns".)  I'm in uncharted territory now and I guess this should be the ongoing theme of my blog, going where few people have gone before.  More and more of us are there now, though, leading the way.  Here's a bulletin: you'll get tired, more tired and more often than you have been before. Guess you never knew that.

I read that there are more people over the age of 65 alive today than existed in all of recorded history.  The evidence is all around us.  A few years ago it was hard to find a birthday card for anyone over 60. Last week I found four for 90-year-olds.  We're all getting' there.  So: blog yesterday and blog today and Tartuffe tomorrow.