November 7, 2008—May 8, 2009
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Jeff Atik, Matt Cook, Ruthie Crossley, Troy Dunn, Michael Galvin, Deborah Knox, Edgar Landa, Jessica Madison, Cynthia Mance, Max Molina, Alisha Nichols, Mariko Oka, Ken Rudnicki, Trace Taylor, Garth Whitten, John Willard
LA Times – Critic’s Choice!
Friday, November 14, 2008 By David C. Nichols
A ‘Gentilhomme’ for our times
With a generous soupçon of witty anarchy, “The Bourgeois Gentilhomme” tumbles into Santa Monica. This sleek City Garage take on Molière’s deathless satire of nouveau riche pretensions and aristocratic machinations is nominally avant-garde, mainly an unguarded hoot.
First performed in 1670 before Louis XIV, “Gentilhomme” concerns Monsieur Jourdain (the riotous Jeff Atik), his father a wealthy merchant who retained middle-class contours. Hopelessly oafish Jourdain thus obsesses over not just the trappings of nobility, which elude him despite the fawning efforts of a slew of tutors, but over trapping the nobles.
That explains Dorante (aptly acerbic Troy Dunn), a sponging count who pretends to help Jourdain woo Dorimène (Deborah Knox, exquisitely poised), Dorante’s own paramour. While everyone mocks Jourdain behind his back, his acidulous wife (Ruthie Crossley) openly bemoans his aspirations, such as marrying off daughter Lucile (Alisha Nichols) to royalty, though she loves commoner Cléonte (Garth Whitten). Assisted by Cléonte’s valet (the avid Max Molina), a melee of duplicity ensues, leading to a demented faux-Turkish resolution.
Conceived by Molière as a comédie-ballet, “Gentilhomme” carries many wicked analogies to modern mores. Director Frédérique Michel and designer Charles Duncombe slyly tailor our times into their tart adaptation, complete with anachronisms, nonstop postures and purposely limp songs by Duncombe and John Gregory Willard. The design scheme seamlessly weds the red-black-and-gilt elegance of Duncombe’s set and lighting to Josephine Poinsot’s splendid costumes.
Goaded by Atik’s clueless climber, equal parts Bert Lahr, Don Rickles and a tea cozy, the nimble cast has a stylized field day. Ken Rudnicki’s tippling servant, Matt Cook’s dance master, Michael Galvin’s music master and Edgar Landa’s master chef are standouts, but everyone embraces the formalized mischief with élan.
Actually, their devotion to the detailed concept sometimes halts the antic fizz. Nonetheless, if full abandon is still finding its way, this hardly diminishes such a gracefully loopy soufflé.
LA Weekly – GO!
Thursday, November 13, 2008 By Steven Leigh Morris
You’d think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation — overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current “we are the world” emotional gush would lead one to believe. It’s in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière’s 1670 comedy – a satire of snobbery and social climbing – will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe’s fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offers the caution that — though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy — perhaps we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulations.
The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition by the insane master of the house of an arranged marriage for his crestfallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel’s visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully’s music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing “tears of a clown” masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, mocking style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 during the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks – despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy began playing again as it should.
I haven’t seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik’s Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld’s King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression – every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain’s smug self-satisfaction, which is embedded with delirious ignorance.
Backstage – Critic’s Pick!
Thursday, December 4, 2008 By by Neal Weaver
High style and low comedy merge in this new adaptation of Molière’s classic tale of nouveau riche Parisian shopkeeper Monsieur Jourdain (Jeff Atik), whose ambition to mingle with the aristocracy leads to his being swindled by shady Count Dorante (Troy Dunn), humiliated by his daughter’s suitor Cleonte (Garth Whitten), and deceived by all.
But fortunately for him, he’s too self-obsessed to notice he’s been hornswoggled. In their free adaptation, director Frederíque Michel and designer-managing director Charles Duncombe have added unexpected elements to the 17th century classic — including a martial arts instructor (Mariko Oka) for M. Jourdain, a transvestite cooch dancer (Matt Cooke), raunchy one-liners, and a handful of songs by Duncombe and John Gregory Willard.
Though Molière’s stock-in-trade was the combining of extravagant artifice with down-to-earth commonsense, director Michel’s penchant for stylization sometimes results in her treating artifice a bit too artificially, but the prevailing wit, buffoonery, and slapstick provide necessary grounding. And Michel has assembled a large and able crew of farceurs. Atik’s vain and dim M. Jourdain is painted in broad strokes, and Ruthie Crossley captures Madame Jourdain’s bourgeois practicality. Cynthia Mance and Max Molina provide sly feistiness as prototypical, scheming Molière servants. Dunn is a snootily supercilious Dorante, and Deborah Knox adds a note of elegance as the beautiful Countess Dorimène, vainly pursued by M. Jourdain. Alisha Nichols and Whitten offer blond good looks and charm as the young lovers, and the ensemble acquits itself nimbly as Jourdain’s various teachers, servants, and hangers-on. Duncombe has created the handsome set, and Josephine Poinsot deftly mingles lavish — and sometimes loony — period costumes with modern dress.
Santa Monica Mirror
Thursday, November 20, 2008 By Lynne Bronstein, Mirror Staff Writer
Comedy can be a lot of things, but sometimes it’s just plain silly. Moliere’s reputation as the classic playwright of France has modern Americans thinking that Moliere plays are really deep. Truth is, Moliere wrote comedies with roots in the broad farces of the ancient Romans and the Italian comedia dell’arte, usually revolving around a character who’s too foolish to see reality.
The Bourgeois Gentilhomme (gentleman) is one such play, an episodic farce about a man who aspires to being high-society. In City Garage’s production, it’s almost like a Marx Brothers movie – but then again, the Marx Brothers are but another link in the unbroken chain of comedies about stuffed-shirts who get their comeuppance.
Monsieur Jourdain (Jeff Atik) is the Bourgeois Gentleman. Rotund and bewigged, he indulges his desire, using his wealth (probably recently acquired) to be a real upper-class twit. He employs many instructors in music, dance, philosophy, even martial arts. He’s so dense that when his philosophy professor (Trace Taylor) explains to him that all speech is either verse or prose, he exclaims “Amazing! I’ve been speaking prose for 40 years and I never knew it!” Strutting around in outfits that look like Halloween in West Hollywood, he provokes ridicule from his down-to-earth wife (Ruthie Crossley), daughter Lucile (Alisha Nichols), and Nicole the maid (Cynthia Mance). But he ignores their warnings – after all, they’re just women.
Jourdain wants to move in higher circles, so he courts the friendship of a rather affected Count (Troy Dunn) and his lady friend, the Countess Dorimene (Deborah Knox). Jourdain lends the Count money and jewels, which the Count uses for his own purpose of wooing Dorimene. Talk about an enabler! The Count sees right through Jourdain’s silliness, but as long as he’s getting advantages from the foolish gentleman, he’s willing to go along with Jourdain’s pretensions.
In the meantime, a nice young man named Cleonte (Garth Whitten) wants to marry Lucile – but the Bourgeois Gentleman only wants to wed his daughter to a blueblood. Cleonte’s servant Covielle (Max Molina) hits upon a scheme straight out of the old fairy tale “Puss in Boots.” By the end of the play, there’s a happy ending and three couples prepare to tie the knot, thanks to the escalating nonsense of Covielle’s mega-put-on. And Monsieur Jourdain suspects nothing. He’s gained not one bit of insight. Larry David would probably approve.
City Garage is known for staging experimental and politically radical plays, more often than not featuring bare flesh. The Bourgeois Gentilhomme is tame material for this company, but director Frederique Michel has found opportunities to make the 17th century comedy feel more modern without glaring anachronisms. The translation and adaptation of the text, by Michel and Charles Duncombe, uses modern colloquialisms and a healthy dose of risque epithets. Many of the performances are appropriately broad and cartoon-like, especially Atik as the title character. Don’t be misled, though, by the ease with which Atik seems to play this foolish man – the role requires much energy and is undoubtedly physically exhausting.
Crossley is to be commended for playing Madame Jourdain with restraint, making her the practical ballast to her husband’s nonsense. Dunn is suitably epicene and sleazy as the Count.
The play also features songs, by Duncombe and John Gregory Willard, with a strong flavor of Monty Python, especially the “Food” song that closes the first act. As for bare flesh – it doesn’t get any more bare than a belly dancer (Lejla Hadzimuratovic). Moliere may not have envisioned a belly-dancer, but her dancing is there to enjoy. And The Bourgeois Gentilhomme is two hours of guilt-free enjoyable silliness.