Readers' Theater: The Mi$er!
From "Preface to 'The Miser'", adapted by Lance Davis. Available February, 2023
Some years ago I finally had a chance to go to La Comedie Francaise. We were on a long-anticipated trip to Paris and a ticket suddenly appeared. I asked Mary and Jemma for permission, then raced to the theater. The usher quickly led me to my seat in a small, empty loge down front. I was in heaven. The play was “La Malade Imaginaire” (The Imaginary Invalid), one of my favorites. It began. I smiled. And after awhile I found myself trying to figure out why I was falling asleep.
Upon returning to our host’s apartment, I was greeted by their 22 year-old daughter who asked how I liked it, and I murmured an embarrassed response. She said, “Yes, I thought you might be disappointed. We don’t go to the Comedie. We’re dragged there from school to see ‘Moliere’, and it’s all too pretentious and boring.”
I recognized the same reaction that many have to Shakespeare. We’ve somehow made brilliant theater a dutiful, almost medicinal experience.
What we try to do at Parson’s Nose is “make classic works more accessible.” What I’ve created here is a broad, one-hour adaptation of Moliere’s classic farce. It is not a reverential homage to Moliere’s language. Those can be found elsewhere. My hope is that your interest will be pricked to continue to explore this marvelously funny and incisive playwright.
Commedia Dell Arte
The emphasis in this adaptation is on capturing the comic spirit of the Italian “commedia dell arte”, the slapstick, irreverent, improvisational comedy popular in 17th Century France, and Moliere’s chief influence in his early years. Full of word play, mistaken identity and schtick (“lazzi”), Commedia was the foundation of modern comic forms, including “vaudeville”, “the sitcom” and “improv”. Its short plays consisted of simple plots with “set” pieces, but allowing room for actors’ improvisation.
Its characters were familiar to every family - troubled young lovers, simple yet clever servants (friends), and conniving, obsessed old men. In “The Miser” we have Harpagon, whose obsession is money, more than willing to sacrifice the happiness of everyone to fulfill his greed. His character is based on the Italian “Pantalone”, a cranky old malcontent, whom we later see in Dickens’ “Scrooge”, radio’s “Jack Benny”, Disney’s “Scrooge McDuck”, Norman Lear’s “Archie Bunker”, The Simpson’s “Mr. Burns”, and even Jim Henson’s “Statler” and “Waldorf”.
Moliere observed that “serious” people don’t mind being thought scandalous, but don’t like to be laughed at. His comedy sought to call attention to our faults by shining a light on them. He writes about “obsessions”, which throw the order of Nature out of balance, thus creating a chaotic maelstrom for everyone else until a solution is found – usually by a servant – and order restored.
We hope you'll enjoy our live Readers' Theater presentations of "The Mi$er" on February 18,19,25,26. Our podcast and script versions will also be available this month.