This morning I finished reading this collection of plays by Christopher Durang. A while ago, my brother turned me on to this playwright and I remember really liking the anarchic absurdity of it all. I also got to see my brother perform the lead role in The Actor’s Nightmare, and it was just hilarious.
This collection contains some of Durang’s most well-known works, like Titanic and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. I enjoyed reading this collection. But as I read it, I realized how hard it is to fully appreciate a play when you can’t see it being performed. There are stage notes and annotations that help, but a lot of Durang’s comedy really hinges on how it’s played on stage. There’s a lot of casual violence in here, and if you read it with out taking the notes and the intentions into account, it’s sometimes very hard to see how it could be funny.
My favorite piece in this collection is The Actor’s Nightmare. Durang explains that a lot of actors have a nightmare where they have to perform in a play they haven’t rehearsed or don’t know at all. In this play, George Spelvin finds himself in the middle of performances of Hamlet, Private Lives, a fictional piece by Beckett, and, I think, A Man For All Seasons. It’s really funny to see how Spelvin keeps trying to go along with it.
Considering what I’ve been reading lately, I don’t think you would have expected to see Molière here. But I decided to read him for two reasons. 1) I’ve heard that he’s a witty social commentator, and 2) I wanted to see if I still had the brain cells to understand four hundred year old literature.
Turns out, I do. 🙂
I really enjoyed reading The Misanthrope. Even though I don’t know much about seventeenth century court life in France, I think that I understood the social behaviors that Molière was skewering here. The play begins with the main character, Alcestes, explaining to a friend his reasons for giving up the social game of flattery, double-dealing, and outright lying. (These very behaviors get played out later in the play to great effect). Even though this play was about the sort of social actions that make me feel misanthropic, I didn’t have any trouble staying interested. Bonus.
I was impressed by some of the modern touches in Molière’s dialogue. He has characters interrupting (to great comic effect) and running over one another’s words. I can only imagine how funny this would be on stage. Some portions of the script, however, drag. After a while, I don’t care how important or amusing or illustrative what one character is saying after they’ve run on for four or more paragraphs. For me, it’s a bit like a musical–very unnatural. I only know one person how speaks in paragraphs and that’s because he’s been in academia since, I think, infancy.
But I think what I really liked was the ending. I think the standard happy ending–with multiple weddings and a moral or two–would have ruined what Molière was up to throughout the play.
I think I’m going to go on and read Tartuffe as long as I have this collection of Molière I checked out from my library. But I am also reading The Last Cato and, even though I am only a few chapters in, I find that I have a lot to say about it already.