Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Les Précieuses Ridicules

(photo by Marc Lemyre)
Giddily pretentious
by Lucy Wells

It’s been years since I last spoke French on a regular basis. But hey, I did read Molière in French literature class once upon a time, and I spent a fair bit of time on Menander and Plautus as a university student, right? And also, Théâtre français de Toronto presents their shows with English surtitles.  Definite draw. So a friend and I went to TfT’s latest production, Molière's Les précieuses ridicules, in a new adaptation, expanded with material from director Guy Mignault.

This production frames Molière’s one-act play with music and the conceit that the players are in fact a bunch of socialites putting on a play for their own enjoyment. The theatre space is small, the fourth wall is often broken, the actors greet the audience with chocolates, and the use of a semi-sheer back curtain to create extra playing space for asides feels just right for this repertoire. Mignault’s direction was bright and lively; I did feel that the extra material went on a bit too long, however. That said, it was in keeping with the fun of socialites going on tangents when their parts weren’t big enough…

The modern frame for the show is led by Nathalie Nadon and Lina Blais, who play maids in the play, and make sure their characters get plenty of attention, even if Molière didn’t write so many lines for them; their business has the audience in stitches each time they appear—and sing. Our pretentious young ladies, two young bourgeois cousins, are played by Chanda Legroulx and Andréane Bouladier, both twittering, addle-pated riots in their ‘80s-tastic dresses, and fully assured that they are sterling examples of wit and refinement. Their father and uncle is Robert Godin, and we feel for his frustrations at having to raise two such—ahem!—high-spirited girls. Nico Racicot and Christopher Webb are their spurned suitors, as well as several other small roles; Webb also accompanies many of the songs on keyboard. Sébastien Bertrand as well as Alexandre Côté bring down the house as the suitors’ valets, decked out in finery and posing as aristos, come to woo the young ladies—and teach them a lesson!

The costume designer, Nina Okens, deserves special mention: her costuming starts with black tie in present-day Toronto but gives us strong hints of 17th century court dress, especially with the over-the-top aristos. Her 1980s finery for the ridicules is inspired, and underlines just how silly and unsophisticated the girls are. 

All in all, this is a fun evening, and your last chance to see a Théâtre français de Toronto production this season.  I’m not sure I completely agree with the framing of the play within another play and all the added songs (to me, it felt a bit too much like adding time, rather than meaning), but my friend loved the concept. Whichever way I might feel about it, the cast is having a ball, and they make sure that the audience is included in the fun. Molière is always a joy, but hearing his work in the original French adds an extra resonance, even if your own French isn’t the strongest. So go. There are surtitles. And chocolates.

April 23 - May 10

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