By Simon Isham–
It is not often that one is able to see a foreign language play in such a profoundly monolingual nation as the U.S. It is even more rare for such a play to be presented on a college campus. “Nous jouons Moliere,” which translates to English as ‘We’re Playing Moliere,” performed by students on April 9 and 11 in the Humanities auditorium. The 40-minute play is a medley of scenes from six classic plays by 17th century French playwright Moliere who is regarded in the francophone world as something of a French Shakespeare.
“Nous jouons Moliere” tells the story of an elderly, slightly senile stage actor who breaks into the venue where he used to perform as a regular celebrity and shares his past follies with the building’s present caretaker. He conjures for her visions of eccentric, excessive characters created by his dramaturgical idol, Moliere. The two watch, mesmerized, as these brief scenes, each with its own moral, unfold. The play was adapted for use in contemporary theatre by Parisian language acquisition expert Sylvaine Hinglais, and further adjusted for U of L students by Dr. John Greene, professor of French. Greene directed the play as a part of his French Theatre Practicum class, the only foreign language theatre course at U of L. Greene said that many of the students who enroll have no prior theatre experience.
“The students are kind of taking a daring step themselves on the first day, and then at the end of the semester, they’re producing their lines confidently. They’re not just spouting dialogue, but they’re making it sound meaningful.
“It’s kind of scary because there’s no prompter for them. They’re up there on the high wire–there’s nothing that’s there to fall back on…In the middle of the semester, you always think, ‘Is this gonna fly?’ but it always does with no exception,” he explained. Most of the cast are either majoring or minoring in French.
The Cardinal spoke to some of the students who put on the play about their experiences. Zerlina Bartholemew, a sophomore French major, played one of the starring roles as the theatre’s caretaker.
“It was definitely a lot of fun, definitely a lot of hard work, and it definitely helped me get to know a lot of really great people in the French major program,” she said. “I would encourage anyone who is interested to check out (this class), because it really helps you to learn French.”
Gabrielle Fulton, a senior French major, played double roles as Martine, the wife of an abusive alcoholic who defends her husband’s ways to outsiders, and Covielle, the official translator of a man posing as a Turkish prince in order to get hitched. Fulton will be graduating in May, and says that of all the French classes she’s taken, French Theatre Practicum is her favorite. “It’s a blast…as we go through the play, we keep journal entries (in French) so we can see where we were before and how far our characters have come. And we get a lot of French speaking skills in a way that is so much fun that we don’t even know that we’re learning. I’d recommend it to anyone at any level because you don’t need a whole lot of French to take this class – it’s just a fun way to learn it,” she said.
Ellen Bushong, a senior history major who is minoring in French, played the role of Dr. Pancrace, whom she says has the personality of Kevin Kline’s pseudo-intellectual character Otto from “A Fish Called Wanda.” “It took us out of our comfort zones. I think a lot of us expected to be kind of half-techie and half actor, but (Dr. Greene’s) vision was totally different and he had us pushing ourselves to get comfortable with the language,” she said. “I’m glad it’s over, but I’ll miss it a little bit.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. John Greene