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Theatre Review (Pasadena): The Bungler by Molière at A Noise Within

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A Noise Within has come up with another winner, The Bungler by Molière. The exquisite translation by Richard Wilbur in rhyming Alexandrian verse is right up there with his translations of Tartuffe and The Misanthrope. It’s very funny without sacrificing any of the poetry.

The Bungler was first performed in this new translation at the Long Warf Theatre in 2000. It is a comic gem. Unlike in his other comedies, Molière is not taking any swipes at religion or the medical society; this is, rather, his valentine to young love and the traditions of Commedia Del Arte. It was Molière’s first play in verse and was hugely successful back in the 1650s, basically putting Molière on the map, rescuing him from exile in the French provinces and gaining for him the favor of the royal court of Louis XIV.

I particularly liked the direction by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. So many Molière productions have been performed as if they were English Restoration Comedy. But Molière wrote plays about people he knew, most likely from his company, and his plays were always rooted in realism. While Rodriguez-Elliot’s direction adapts the styles and characters from the Commedia tradition, she keeps the play rooted in reality, even when the characters are acting at their most extreme foolishness.

The plot is simple. A young lover, Lelie (a lovely Michael A. Newcomer), in love with Celie (Emily Kosloski), enlists the help of his wily servant Mascarille (a brilliant comic performance by J.D. Cullum). The problem is that Lelie is hopelessly inept and “bungles” all of Mascarille’s plots to get the lovers together. Present also are the standard Commedia characters, Trufaldin, the nasty old father of Celie; Pandolfe, the thick-headed father of Lelie (a marvelous Mitchell Edmonds, who parades around with an imaginary dog on a leash); and a rich, stupid moneylender, Anselme (the funny Stephen Rockwell).

This production is an absolute delight and really is a must-see for classical theatregoers. The Bungler runs in repertory with Antony and Cleopatra and The Illusion until May 27 at A Noise Within.

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