Plays

audio The Liar

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The Liar by Pierre Corneille, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Martin Jarvis.

In this classic farce, a young man pretends to be a war hero to impress a pretty girl. As his lies progress, so do his troubles – with hilarious results. Playwright Pierre Corneille’s comedy of manners is considered a groundbreaking work which influenced contemporaries such as the young Molière.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production, starring Tara Lynne Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, and Matthew Wolf

Includes a conversation about Corneille and French drama with Larry F. Norman of the University of Chicago.

Lead funding for this production is provided by the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

Featuring: Tara Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, Matthew Wolf

Life x 3

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Henri and Sonia have invited Hubert and Ines, for dinner. But the appointed evening finds Sonia is in her dressing-gown, their child screaming for a chocolate biscuit, Henri reacting badly to Hubert's casually barbed news and the immaculate Ines appalled to find a ladder in her stocking. Things could have gone better. And maybe they will... With characteristic perception and wit, Yasmina Reza (elegantly translated by Christopher Hampton) slices into her characters to reveal the inner truth about them and, perhaps, all of us.

Life x 3 in this translation premiered at the National Theatre, London, in December 2000.

The Little Black Book

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

One morning, Jean-Jacques leaves his door ajar – and a total stranger slips into his life. Is she deranged, a squatter, or a woman from his past? As a lawyer, he should know how to get rid of her, but as a man, he has no idea. His orderly world is turned upside-down when what started as a comic encounter changes his life forever.

The Lottery of Love

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

An eligible suitor has been found for Sylvia but, determined to judge him for herself, she swaps roles with her maid. Meanwhile the suitor and his manservant have the same idea. Before long each believes they are fatally attracted to their social opposite. Sylvia’s well-intentioned father looks on as the two couples attempt to make sense of their desires and ultimately lose themselves to love.

From eighteenth-century France, John Fowles transports us to Regency England in this elegant adaptation of Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard, Marivaux’s greatest comedy. This version of The Lottery of Love premiered at the Orange Tree, Richmond, in March 2017.

audio The Misanthrope (1996)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Razor-sharp wit inflames a competitive game of survival in the salons of 17th century France where, in this world of "finest appearances," one man's blunt honesty shatters his society's delicate web of manners. Often considered to be Moliere's Hamlet, The Misanthrope is a wickedly scathing satire.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Harry Althaus, Amy Farrington, Bradford Farwell, Sean Fortunato, David Frutkoff, Kevin Gudahl, Ora Jones, Chad Kelderman, John Reeger, Hollis Resnik and Larry Yando.

Featuring: Harry Althaus, Amy Farrington, Bradford Farwell, Sean Fortunato, David Frutkoff, Kevin Gudahl, Ora Jones, Chad Kelderman, John Reeger, Hollis Resnik, Larry Yando

audio The Misanthrope (2012)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

This timeless comedy of manners is considered one of Molière’s most probing and mature works. While it’s still an exemplar of 16th century farce, Molière went beyond his usual comic inventiveness to create a world of rich, complex characters, especially in the cynical title character Alceste, played here by the Tony Award-winning actor Brian Bedford.

Lead funding for this production is provided by the Sidney E. Frank Foundation. This recording also includes an interview with Larry F. Norman author of “The Public Mirror: Molière and the Social Commerce of Depiction”. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Brian Bedford as Alceste JD Cullum as Clitandre Sarah Drew as Eliante Martin Jarvis as Philinte Darren Richardson as Basque, Du Bois Susan Sullivan as Arsinoe Nick Toren as Oronte Matt Wolf as Acaste, Guard Bellamy Young as Celimene Directed by Rosalind Ayres. Translated by Richard Wilbur.

Featuring: Brian Bedford, JD Cullum, Sarah Drew, Martin Jarvis, Darren Richardson, Susan Sullivan, Nick Toren, Matthew Wolf, Bellamy Young

The Misanthrope (trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Arguably one of Molière’s best-known and most loved plays, The Misanthrope is a classic comedy that satirises the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society.

Alceste, the misanthrope, hates all mankind and despairs of its falseness. He believes that the world could be perfected if only people were more honest with one another. But his candidness soon starts to make him enemies and he becomes the target of malicious rumours. He alienates his love, Célimène, by reproaching her coquettish behaviour and is summoned before the court of marshals to defend his negative opinion on some poetry composed by a powerful noble. Alceste begins to realise that the only way to be left alone is to disengage from society itself – but he struggles to persuade Célimène to go with him and is ultimately left alone.

Molière is responsible for elevating comedy to the status of the great tragedies written by his contemporaries Racine and Corneille. Though The Misanthrope is widely considered to be his comedic masterpiece, it was actually a commercial failure when it first appeared in 1666 at the Palais-Royal in Paris. Perhaps its uneasy mix of comedy and tragedy caused consternation among those original Parisian theatregoers since it represented a significant break from Molière’s usual farcical fare. However, its stature has only increased since then and the play is now an established part of the theatrical canon.

The Miser

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Miser is a five-act comedy written in prose, which makes it a fairly unusual addition to Molière’s oeuvre. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1668 and was not an instant success, perhaps in part due to the decision not to write in verse. However, records show that its fortunes improved and by 1900 and the founding of the Comédie Française, The Miser had become the most performed 17th century play with over 1500 performances.

Harpagon is an unashamed miser. Yet he lives in relative wealth that he takes great pains to protect. Now a widow and over seventy years of age, he plans on marrying Mariane – a wholly inappropriate choice given her young age and her existing romantic attachment to his son, Cléante. As part of an impoverished family, Cléante helps secure Mariane a loan much to his father’s ire. Meanwhile, Harpagon’s daughter Élise is in love with Valère but her father plans to sell her off to a much higher bidder, preferably the wealthy Anselme. When Harpagon’s hoard is stolen, he begins pointing the finger at anyone and everyone, even the theatregoers themselves. Things are rapidly resolved in the fifth act in a finale full of comedic coincidences: Anselme is revealed to be the father of both Valère and Mariane and agrees to pay for both marriages whilst Harpagon is reunited with his beloved hoard.

The Miser has been translated into many different languages and performed all over the world. Its story has formed the basis of a Bollywood musical, a Russian opera and numerous film and TV adaptations.

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Qur'an

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Paris in the 1960s. Thirteen-year-old Moses lives the shadow of his less-than loving father. When he’s caught stealing from wise old shopkeeper Monsieur Ibrahim, he discovers an unlikely friend and a whole new world. Together they embark on a journey that takes them from the streets of Paris to the whirling dervishes of the Golden Crescent.

Translated by Patirck Driver and Patricia Beneke, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of Qur’an received its British premiere at the Bush Theatre, London, on 17 January 2006, in a production directed by Patricia Beneke.

The Mother

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Anne loved the time in her life when she prepared breakfast each morning for her two young children. Years later, spending hours alone, Anne convinces herself that her husband is having an affair. If only her son were to break-up with his girlfriend. He would return home and come down for breakfast. She would put on her new red dress and they would go out.

The Mother, in this English translation by Christopher Hampton, was commissioned by the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal, Bath, and premiered in May 2015. Florian Zeller's The Mother was awarded the Moliere Award for Best Play 2011.

When François I established French as the official language of his kingdom around 1540, theatre rapidly became one of the foundations on which it sought to base its cultural ambitions. By translating, adapting and imitating the tragedies of Seneca, comedies of Terence and Plautus and pastoral plays of Renaissance Italy, scholarly French humanists aspired to raise French literature to the illustrious level of those models. Treating Classical or Biblical stories with a strong political and moral sense, Etienne Jodelle, Jean de la Taille, Robert Garnier, Antoine de Monchrestien and Pierre de Larivey established the ground rules for the genres of tragedy and comedy on classical models. Outside universities and colleges, however, theatre did not attain social or intellectual respectability until the 1630s when Louis XIII and his minister Cardinal Richelieu supported a group of young literary dramatists and used the newly-founded Académie française to codify a set of rules for theatrical form based on Aristotle’s precepts. Thus the vigorous and spectacular dramas of the Baroque period, dominated in Paris by the prolific Alexandre Hardy, gave way to the Classical aesthetic, prioritizing purity of expression, harmony and unity of form, explored by Pierre Corneille then firmly established by Jean Racine in tragedy and Molière in comedy. Between them, those three theatrical geniuses produced 77 plays between 1629 and 1677, at least twenty of which (including Le Cid, L’Illusion comique, L’Ecole des Femmes, Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, Andromaque and Phèdre) must be considered world-class masterpieces of the classical genres. The patterns they established became codified in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and much of French theatrical life became derivative and stultified, although Marivaux drew inspiration from Italian actors to achieve success with delicate comedies of love and manners. Only Beaumarchais in the 1770s restored French drama to a world-class position, with his vivacious and witty satires, notably Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro. In the early nineteenth century, French theatre was reinvigorated by the influence of Shakespeare – hitherto barely known and generally despised – and of German theatre; Romantic poets Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset composed large-scale complex dramas, combining the comic and the tragic with an exalted conception of the heroic and a self-conscious quest for poetic effectiveness. Their vogue was displaced by a sequence which reflected the broader artistic and literary movements through the century: Realism (Eugène Scribe, Émile Augier and Henry Becque), followed by Naturalism (adaptations for the stage of novels by Zola and the Goncourts, plays by Paul Alexis, Octave Mirbeau and Émile Fabre) then Symbolism, dominated by the Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck. The middle years of the century also saw the flowering of the genre still generally referred to as ‘French farce’, with works by Eugène Labiche, Georges Feydeau and others providing the foundation for a tradition which was taken on by Jean Anouilh in the twentieth century. Modern French theatre has been dominated by a series of shocking experiments, apparently motivated by a desire to jolt audiences out of complacency with regard not only to social realities, but also to the role of art and literature, and particularly to the place and status of theatre within the country’s literary heritage. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays, dramatic experiments within the Surrealist and Dada movements, the innovative uses of space, music and text in the works of Jean Cocteau and above all the French contributions to the Theatre of the Absurd (notably from Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett), all celebrated playfulness, childishness and zaniness to an extent which tired the patience of the average theatre-goer, but ensured that the French theatre’s reputation for vigorous inventiveness and exuberant life was maintained through the century. Alongside such innovative experiments, the work of several major literary figures, such as André Gide, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, includes drama. The Comédie-française and other national companies ensure the ongoing reputation of the canonical heritage whilst a thriving provincial and fringe/café theatre culture provides a vigorous anti-establishment counterpoint. Amongst other currently active dramatists, Michel Vinaver and Yasmina Reza seem destined to ensure the continuing rich health of live performance art in French artistic life.

by Edward Forman, Senior Lecturer in French, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol