Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: (Toronto) The Royal Comedians

Sarah Koehn & Diego Matamoros (photo by: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Singing the Under-sung
Soulpepper delivers a little-known gem
by Christian Baines
Mikhail Bulgakov’s black satire The Royal Comedians arrives at Soulpepper Theatre Company, reminding audiences of a time when playwrights were answerable to both state and church for the content of their plays. Bulgakov experienced such censorship first hand. Earning the ire of Soviet authorities by supposedly making a joke of the regime, it was only the intervention of an unlikely fan, Stalin himself, that kept the writer from prison.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that he should find solidarity with Molière, his subject and protagonist in The Royal Comedians. Like Bulgakov, the Molière of this story enjoys the favour of his nation’s leader, much to the dismay of the resident doctrinal gatekeepers (in Molière’s case, the church). 
Director Laszlo Marton has done a terrific job of balancing the wit and comedy of Bulgakov’s play with the bleak, brutal realities of Molière’s situation. The sizeable cast, led by Diego Matamoros as Molière, are a rare treat to watch as an ensemble, equally at home with the piece’s farce and slapstick as they are with its satire. There’s a fitting hint of danger in Matamoros’ performance, clearly a man teetering on the edge of self-destruction, while Gregory Prest’s Louis XIV commands an appropriately dominant charm whenever he’s on stage. 

Lorenzo Savoini’s simple, yet elegant and modular design provides a wonderful setting in which to play, enabling some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, particularly during a staging of Moliere’s famed Tartuffe. While occasional flat spots do seep into its running time, The Royal Comedians remains an under-sung black comedy classic that’s as thought provoking as it is entertaining. 

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