Le Mariage Forcé

Rated 3.0

Molière, Molière—the greatest comic playwright of all time? It’s not our forte to make the definitive ruling, but we wouldn’t dispute that conclusion. The great Frenchman (1622-1673) understood human nature as well as any writer of any age. And he loved to take down the proud—doctors, scholars, the wealthy and the falsely devout. Molière’s comedies are still marvelously subversive and speak clearly to us hundreds of years after they were written, despite the accumulated shoals of time and our own monolingualism. (Few influential 21st-century California Anglos comprehend spoken French—or any other language, besides their native English. This will get us in the end, but that’s another story.)The task at hand: California Stage’s Le Mariage Forcé, presented first in French (with French baroque costumes and wigs), followed by a replay of the same script in English (this time with Italian accents, in costumes and a physical style recalling the commedia dell’ arte of the 1590s).

Insanely ambitious? For sure. This show has choppy moments. Director Ray Tatar, working with the Alliance Française de Sacramento, has tutored the cast in French, with mixed results. They’re not native speakers, and there are lots of “ums.”

But does it work? Ultimately, this modest show pays dividends. Hearing Molière in French is a major plus. And worthy James Anderson (as leading man Sganarelle) does the physical comedy beautifully, even if he struggles with his French lines. Linda Noveroske Rentner (whose credits include studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, in addition to a master’s degree from UC Davis) rises to worthy heights as Dorimène. There are lovely costumes by Libby Harmor.