Campus News

UB to present live French theater

Detail of a promotional poster for "Mad Men! chez Moliére.".


Published October 4, 2022

Amy Graves Monroe.
“I love the title ‘Mad Men’ for this production because we all need a little crazy right now. There’s something kind of joyful about the play. ”
Amy Graves Monroe, associate professor and chair
Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

The French playwright Molière was born 400 years ago, but his witty, often hilarious, plays resonate today with their uncanny insights into human nature. Molière’s humor, moreover, can range within a single play from slapstick to the sublime.

UB’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures will bring to campus a production of excerpts from some of the dramatist’s best-known plays in “Mad Men! Chez Molière,” an adaptation staged by the Compagnie Caravague of Paris. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 in Baird Recital Hall, 250 Baird Hall, North Campus. Co-sponsor is the Alliance Française de Buffalo (AFB), which has a long history of presenting annual French plays in Buffalo until prevented to do so by the COVID pandemic. Of note, AFB’s president is Joseph Smith, senior postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Those not familiar with French needn’t fear they’ll miss out on the fun: The production, featuring actors André Nerman and Pascal Thoreau, will project English surtitles above the stage throughout the performance. Nerman is also the director and author of the adaptation, which cleverly links excerpts from various plays with cagey commentary by a “man of today,” as well as Molière himself, also a character in the drama.

For Amy Graves Monroe, chair of Romance languages and literatures, “Mad Men” gives audiences the opportunity to relish madcap comedy as well as appreciate unforgettable characters like Monsieur Jourdain, desperate to appear learned, in “The Bourgeois Gentleman.” Or Argan, the inveterate hypochondriac in “The Imaginary Invalid,” who frequently falls prey to charlatans offering dubious cures and treatment.

“The wonderful thing about French classical comedy is its incredible wit that is paired with a tradition of physical comedy that comes from the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte,” says Graves Monroe. “The spectacle itself holds not just for the ears but also for the eyes. If theater, in general, does this for us, I would say it’s doubly true for the French classical comedy. Molière, in particular, is part of that French literary tradition because he’s a keen observer of human nature. And that human nature is also manifested in his character types that are delightful to see because you’re reminded of the folks who surround you.”

Beyond the play’s wide appeal, Graves Monroe sees “Mad Men! Chez Molière” as a way to contribute to Buffalo’s “cultural landscape” and respond to ongoing “interest in things French and Francophone around here.” In addition to Alliance Française de Buffalo, she notes the presence of the Buffalo-Lille partnership organization, as well as the Western New York chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French. On campus, the play is being promoted at the department’s Table Française, “a curricular extension activity that we offer to anyone who wants to come and converse in French,” explains Graves Monroe.

Meanwhile, the UB French Club has announced the play to its student membership, and TAs and French faculty within the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures have received the play poster, along with Nerman’s text for the production. Student attendance is particularly encouraged, and why, in fact, the admission price for students has been set low. Area high school French teachers have also received notices of the play, and it’s hoped they’ll urge their students to attend as well.

Graves Monroe, who teaches a course called “Molière from Page to Stage” and who has a background in theater performance, underscores Molière’s continuing appeal beyond considerations of language alone. “I’ve watched Molière in Richard Wilbur’s translations, at the Comédie-Française in Paris, in the errant high school production and on YouTube. Inevitably, when done well, there’s really a lot to be enjoyed.

“I love the title ‘Mad Men’ for this production because we all need a little crazy right now. There’s something kind of joyful about the play.”

She adds: “What’s interesting is there aren’t a whole lot of crazy women in Molière. There are a few, but mostly the stories are stories of older men who have a bee in their bonnet. That person usually wants something that no one else wants. And the entire stage cast conspires to make sure the right things are done and that all is right with the world by the end of the play.”

For tickets, go to Full-time students, $5; AFB members, $15; general public, $20, if purchased by Oct. 6. Tickets purchased at the door are students, $5; AFB members, $20; general public, $25.