Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shakespeare and Molière on the Chesapeake Bay

A scene from Tim Mooney's adaptation of Molière's Tartuffe at Reynolds Tavern in Annapolis, MD

Shakespearean actor Timothy Mooney
It has been a week of classic theater for me, due to the visit to Maryland of actor and dramatist Timothy Mooney, whose sister is my neighbor. Last week we drove to Annapolis to Reynolds Tavern for a courtyard performance of Molière's Tartuffe, artfully adapted for the American stage by Mr. Mooney, who sat at our table. Tartuffe is the story of a swindler whose feigned piety dupes the father of a family. As Tartuffe convinces the father to give him his daughter in marriage as well as his property, he is simultaneously trying to seduce the girl's mother. The family is saved at the end but Molière's play shows how a parent's imprudence can result in evil entering the sanctuary of the home. It also depicts how religion can be used, then as now, as a wolf's sheepskin. Conveyed in Mr. Mooney's clever adaptation with a lively repartee and a good deal of humor, the messages are as pertinent now as ever. Sitting in the courtyard on a cloudless evening with strings of lights and the branches of an elm tree overhead, the ambiance was magical. The young actors gave an energetic performance, flitting among the tables and drawing the audience into the drama. I realized once again that there is no replacement for live theater and I understood on a deeper level why the ancient Greeks saw theater as essential for maintaining a balanced personality. 

 Last night, we had only to walk a short distance to see Tim Mooney himself perform Shakespeare’s Histories: Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace in our village hall. Scenes from Shakespeare's history plays were depicted in a cohesive fashion as the actor conjured up the various Kings of England, beginning with John and ending with Henry VIII. To quote from the Timothy Mooney Repertory Theater website
I take, as my premise, that Shakespeare was writing a series of plays about the struggle of succession. A good, clean, undisputed succession leads to happiness and prosperity. An uncertain, contentious succession leads to dispute, dissension and rebellion. It leads to war and death. Horrible war and agonizing death. Death to masses of people, such that “your tawny ground [doth] with your blood discolor.” Given that Shakespeare’s current ruler, Queen Elizabeth I, was in her sixties, an ancient age in these days, Shakespeare was essentially telling horror stories to the public about the dangers a disputed succession would bring to England of the 17th century.
His rendition of St. Crispin's Day from Henry V Act 4, Scene 3 brought us to another time and place, to a battlefield in France, and we watched the former playboy Prince Hal become a leader of men. Seeing a true thespian like Mr. Mooney made me realize how often in this society we mistake counterfeits for the genuine. It is only when the genuine is set before you that you realize you have been fooled by the rest.  Here is a quote from Tim's blog about another performance he gave but it describes the night in our village hall as well:
Today I got to recite a bunch of words to an audience that DID NOT CARE that they had been spoken a million times before. I got to pretend that I was the first guy who ever thought of phrasing these ideas this particular way… and the audience laughed and gasped and sighed as if they were the first audience that ever heard these particular words… understood these particular thoughts… recognized these particular characters or grasped those particular ideas. They put a frame around life that was unimaginable before those lights came up, and that moment realized itself. (Read more.)
As an encore, Tim took requests. I requested a scene from Julius Caesar, and I was rewarded by the most stirring version of Mark Antony's funeral oration that I have ever heard. At the end of the evening I was able to purchase a signed copy of Tim's book Acting at the Speed of Life, which is a must-read for anyone interested in acting as either a profession or a hobby.

Tim is currently traveling the United States on his Fall Tour, so be sure to check his blog to see if he might be performing in your neighborhood any time soon. Share

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