Moliere celebration honors continue

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Posted by Bob Evans

Spring Newsletter

Vol. IV, No. 1
Salut, Bob! Welcome to the Spring 2021 newsletter.
By Rebecca Smith

On a cold, blustery, snowy evening, how inviting it was to snuggle inside and be entertained by Molière on the occasion of his 399th Birthday. Of course, we’d rather have celebrated in person, but the wintery conditions made the Zoom presentation, oh, so genteel.

Tucked up cozy in our own homes, Molière’s themes were warming indeed, ranging from flirtation and love, to chauvinism and treachery. Roughly 20 Kansas City celebrities, who themselves encompassed fields as distinctive as museums, voice, theatre, journalism, visual artistry and all manner of performance art, interpreted, in short excerpts, Molière’s timeless wit and style. Some added a bit of fashion flamboyance. Some embellished with props. And several of the readings were done in French as well, greatly adding to the enjoyment, authenticity and elegance of the evening. For, whether you understand French or not Molière’s verse and prose flow like music.

Bill Eckhardt described how he and his wife responded, “Marge and I both instinctively commented on the differences in the rendition of the same material both in English and in French.  We decided it must be the power of language, in this case French, to convey with greater strength the ideas, the original meaning, and the ear-catching rhythm of the scene. A clear demonstration of the power of the use of the original language.”

As a finale, a scene from Philip blue owl Hooser’s new work, a play imagining the introduction of Molière to the native peoples by the early 19th-century French fur traders, was gleefully enacted. Intriguing and quite conceptual, Tartuffenmiserthrope! capped off the event with élan.

Jean Charles Foyer, artist/videographer, did his reading from Normandy, France, no less. Cyprienne Simchowitz, international attorney/consultant, read bilingually from Arizona.

Attendees seemed smitten.

The chat included many thanks for the opportunity to experience KC’s rich artistic community. There were chimes of “bravo!” and “beautiful work!” and even a “beau travail accompli par tous”. Mark Mattison of UMKC Foundation and Conservatory enthused, “WOW! WOW! WOW! …It was so much fun!”

Celebrity readers were no less energized.

Kadesh Flow, rapper, stated, “Didn’t realize how much I needed that.” Victoria Botero, soprano, declared, “It really filled me with hope for making art again in our supportive KC community.” Daisy Buckët, drag artist, commented, “What a treat it was to watch so many magnificent talents and to be in their company.” To Steve Paul, author, it was “a joyous event”, to Devon Carney and Jeffrey Bentley, Directors of the KC Ballet, “a raucous time” and “a wonderful adventure”, to Charles Bruffy, Director of the KC Chorale, “a blast”. Calvin Arsenia, singer/harpist, expressed it most succinctly, “More French to Kansas City!”

Well over 200 attended the live presentation.  Close to that number watched it later on Facebook and YouTube. Donations totaled approximately $1,600.

The pandemic has been a challenge for us all but, as Molière himself proclaimed “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”

Watch the video
As part of KC MOlière: 400 in 2022s Thoroughly Modern Molière initiative, the Unicorn commissioned Liccardello sisters Natalie and Talia to write a contemporary take on Molière or his work. The result was BLIND FAITH, a  hilarious modern tribute to the classic French farces of Molière.

The action takes place during a weekend retreat attended by the followers of Blind Faith, a pseudo religious, self-help organization, owned by the Purnelle Family. The weekend’s Guest Speaker is none other than Molière himself, engaged by Blind Faith because of his expertise in romantic relationships, not to mention his celebrity status. Quickly, the Purnelles find that family and business do not mix. The result is a fast paced, hysterical confrontation of lies, deceit, romance, and desires.

A free, live (digital) reading will be on Sunday, February 21 at 7:30. More information at unicorntheatre.org

This Unicorn Theatre play in development by Natalie & Talia Liccardello is directed by Theodore Swetz. Natalie is well known to Kansas City theatre audiences not only as a playwright (Pies from the Porn Kitchen at the Fish Tankand director (Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice at The Living Room) but also for major acting roles at KC Rep, the Coterie, the New Theatre. She played Lady Macbeth opposite Kyle Hatley in his two-character Macbeth at The Living Room. She has a daughter enrolled at the Académie Lafayette.

Theodore Swetz, beloved University of Missouri Kansas City professor who taught acting until his 2019 retirement, specializes in comedy as a professional actor and director. He acted in the last two of a long line of Molière productions at Missouri Repertory Theatre (now KC Rep), playing the title role in The Imaginary Invalid in 1995 and the bad poet Oronte in The Misanthrope in 1996. One of the last student productions he directed at UMKC was Molière’s The Learned Ladies. After retirement, Ted and his wife Vicki, who taught French for many years, took a leisurely car trip around France, stopping at small-town boulangeries and charming bistros. Ted and Vicki have a retirement home near Spring Green, Wisconsin, where he acted many seasons with American Players Theatre.

SAVE THE DATE!

Exciting news about The Pests

Felicia Londré’s new adaptation of Molière’s Les Fâcheux is set to receive an online reading produced by Kansas City Actors Theatre as a benefit for KC MOlière: 400 in 2022.  The reading will be an online affair, open to all comers, on Sunday, March 7th at 5:00pm. 

With a sterling cast of 14 actors, The Pests will be directed by John Rensenhouse and feature such Kansas City favorites as Robert Gibby Brand, RH Wilhoit, Sam Cordes, Matt Schwader, Bri Woods, Matt Williamson, Meredith Wolfe, Ashley Pankow, Coleman CrenshawVi Tran, Josh Gleeson, Chris Roady, Walter Coppage, Greg Butell, and Trevor French. 

Plus, the KCAT is generously donating all profits to KC MOlière: 400 in 2022, and they’ve even underwritten an honorarium which will be paid to the actors and director! 

Details on how to access this free event will be forthcoming but mark the date and time on your calendar.  You won’t want to miss it!

UMKC to Offer
Continuing Education Course on Molière

Celebrating Molière’s 400th Birthday is the title of a four-session Cockefair Chair Course offered by UMKC on Wednesdays from 7:00 to 8:30pm, beginning 24 February. The synchronous online Zoom sessions, taught by Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita of Theatre Felicia Londré will include illustrated lectures and discussion of selected plays.

The introductory session on 24 February combines an overview of KC MOlière400 in 2022‘s mission and the connection with Kansas City’s French origins, then moves on to Molière’s life in its 17th-century context. Time will be allowed for a brief discussion of Molière’s short farce The Flying Doctor.

Molière’s breakthrough moment that — for better or worse — consolidated his relationship with “Sun King” Louis XIV, the infamous 17 August 1661 night at Vaux-le-Vicomte, will be the focus on 3 March. The Pests, Dr. Londré’s translation of Les Fâcheux, the play presented in the gardens that evening, will be available for participants to read for discussion. Another short play to be discussed is Two Precious Maidens (Les Précieuses ridicules, 1659), his first Paris success.

The women in Molière’s life gave him plenty of material for his plays. His marriage to a woman only half his age made him a target for criticism. This will be the topic on 10 March, along with discussion of two full-length plays, The School for Wives and The Misanthrope.

The final session, on 17 March, will look at Molière’s favorite theme, hypocrisy, which encompassed fake doctors, zealots who made a show of piety, and more. The importance of music and dance in his work, his collaboration with composer Lully, and his invention of comédie-ballet will also be covered. Plays to discuss are Tartuffe and The Bourgeois Gentleman.

Named after the legendary professor of English, Carolyn Benton Cockefair, UMKC’s three- or four-session continuing education courses are offered each semester on a wide range of topics. Londré has taught dozens of such courses, including Theatre and Revolution in Eastern Europe 1989-90 in 2016 and a series on great American playwrights: Thornton Wilder in 2014, Eugene O’Neill in 2012, and Tennessee Williams in 2011. “I love the Cockefair courses,” says Londré, “because the participants really commit to them for the joy of learning, and it’s stimulating for me to focus on a closely defined subject.”

The cost of a four-session Cockefair Chair Course is $50. To register for this or other courses offered this spring, use this link:
https://info.umkc.edu/cockefair/courses/

The plays for discussion may be read in any translation (or in French). Dr. Londré’s unpublished translation, The Pests, will be distributed to participants. Most of the play texts are available free for download from Project Gutenberg. For example, Les Préciouses ridicules, translated as The Pretentious Young Ladieshttp://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6562 

Interview with playwright
Philip blue owl Hooser

By Margaret Shelby

Life is messy. Plays have order.

Sometimes a play shows us extreme chaos, yes, but a well-constructed play must have an order, even if it is an order all its own. That is what makes it art.

Philip blue owl Hooser, Kansas City playwright, has been commissioned to create just such art with his play Tartuffenmiserthrope! This new work asks Phil to pull together some unlikely threads, as we will see.

Artists, however, can find connections in unlikely places. At first glance they may seem unwieldy, obscure, or even zany, but an artist can discover and illuminate connections between ideas, events, thoughts, and peoples and it is here we find the magic of what Philip is conjuring.

Foremost, for Phil the love of Molière comes from the author’s humor. Phil grew up reading comedy poetry, aspiring to becoming a poet himself.

Hooser believes humor is what makes pain bearable. And he has been through some pain; most recently surgery to remove an unsaveable foot.

He comments on the experience this way; “As I was coming out of the anesthesia, a nurse asked me some questions, one of them was how tall was I? I said, ‘well, when I came in here I was 5’11”, but now… I’m a foot short!’”

“Finding the comedy to go along with the serious keeps me balanced,” he says.

Phil continues, “Themes in Molière plays such as the hypocrite of Tartuffe, the skinflint of the Miser, and the Misanthrope who hates everybody. All of the people around them are able to look at them and say ‘that’s an example of what I don’t want to be’.

“For me, that is an example of a thing I don’t want; to be ungrateful for the events and people in my life. I want to share with them and bring humor.

“There’s enough dark, crying in the world. I want to bring more laughter where I can”.

Even as a young writer Phil discovered his preferred form was narrative comedy.

“I like comedy. I like funny stuff. I wanted to know more about comedy. And as I spent more time writing, I decided I like stories. I want to know more about how stories work. How is it we put together stories, how can I put together more quality in a story? And comedy itself leads to a lot of really weird discussions like:

  • Which is the funniest letter? 
  • Is it better with a little pause before this?
  • Should I pause after that part in telling the joke?

“And where does my setup need to be and what if I make it this word, then I can also add a pun…and all those things.
 
“There is just so much to it. Who said, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard?’”
 
(Trivia fans take note: it turns out it is variously attributed, but Edmund Gwenn seems heavily favored. You know Mr. Gwenn; Santa from 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street.)
 
“Yeah, it’s one of the things I’ve always believed, that comedy, as difficult as it is, is one of the best things for us, ya know ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ Some scientific research actually bears that out. There are things that we get from comedy and from laughing that we just don’t get in any other form.”
 
The venerable Mayo Clinic’s website agrees with this, publishing an article advising ways to manage stress with laughter.
 
Phil agrees, “Yes. I’ve done customer service, box office things and know that if you smile when you answer the phone people can actually hear the smile in your voice. The more I was able to start off the conversation with a smile, the better things seemed to go. Smile even though your heart is breaking, laugh clown laugh.”
 
Would it be a bit intimidating to write a play that was even tangentially attached to Molière? Perhaps, but as Phil is approaching it, the results sound like just good fun.

“It will be about a 40-minute play. Fits well into a class period. I worked for years at The Coterie, and I learned a lot about young people. How long they can sustain their connection to something.

“What we realized was it was actually the same for adults. We adults don’t actually have better attention spans; we are better at hiding our boredom.

“That’s the thing I actually love about young audiences: they will be completely honest with you about what they are watching. Adults will lie to you as they are watching.

“It’s a thing that makes you work a little bit harder: to say I know this has gone on for about 10 minutes so I need to change that. When you get to the 45-minute mark, you need to have something big change the circumstances.

“Working in children’s theatre has taught me a lot, and I apply it to any of the playwriting I do but especially when I’m writing for youth. It is a rule I have to enforce on myself.”

And what is this play about, exactly?

“We wanted to find a way to connect these things; Chouteau founding of KC, the Native community, and Molière.

“Well, what if Chouteau, his wife, and his brother, in an effort to foster good relations with the local native community, were to say to the tribal elders, ‘We can bring you something you don’t have; we can bring you theatre.’

“Native Americans, and I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation, we didn’t really develop theatre. Storytelling, yes. Wonderful storytelling. Sometimes there would be dances, but there was nothing people today would recognize as theatre.

“So I thought, well, what if they said ‘we can bring you things from our culture and theatre is one of them’? Chouteau’s idea is they are going to present Molière’s funniest, greatest play. Comedy connects with people. We are more likely to laugh at the same things because some things are universally funny.


“As it begins, François Chouteau comes out and starts performing a bit of Tartuffe. But, he has to stop and explain to the tribe members what is going on, and that becomes a source of confusion.
 
“He must say, ‘I’m acting, which means that I’m not being myself, even though I’m still myself, and I’m also playing someone else’. And then his wife comes in and she is playing one of the roles. Unfortunately the role that she is playing is in a completely different play, because, as we find out, they did not get together and talk about which play they were doing. They just agreed to ‘Molière’s GREATEST play.’ And they each have a different idea of who and what that is.
 
“Of course, when his brother comes in, he’s doing yet a third play. So they have to sort all of that out and still try to reach some kind of happy conclusion so that the Native American audience will let them set up shop, have a settlement, and turn it into Kansas City.”
 
Hence the title of Tartuffenmiserthrope! It’s Tartuffe and the Miser and the Misanthrope.
 
To make it even more fun, it all has a rhyme scheme. When the Chouteau troupe is acting, they are in rhyme. When they’re not acting, there is no rhyme scheme. 
 
“As a tribute to the plays of Molière that do rhyme, yes, but especially to those wonderful, wonderful translations and adaptations of them by Richard Wilbur, which have just those hilarious rhymes in them.”
 
Was the Chouteau family theatrical? We don’t really know.
 
“I’m not basing the characters on what the Chouteau’s were like as people. It’s not necessarily their historical personalities. This is creating a fiction of them. It COULD be true.”
 
Of course. Phil is not doing a documentary on this family. He is writing a play, by no means suggesting the Chouteau family really did a Molière play for the local tribal elders. That probably did not happen. Because a literal recreation of someone’s entire life would be, well, their entire life.
 
Life is messy. Plays have order.

François Chouteau at the Confluence
of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers

(italicized words are pronounced in French)
by Felicia Londré

Pronounce my name like “shoe” and “toe.”
François Chouteau‘s my name.
This land two hundred years ago
Was wilderness. By boat I came.

Bérénice — my bride — and I
Chose the river for our honeymoon.
In 1819 we first passed by
This place we would revisit soon.

Up the Missouri from my home,
From Saint Louis, town of my birth,
Bérénice had yearned to roam
Westward on this bountiful earth.

We saw elk and deer, enormous bears,
Clustering Carolina parakeets;
Ate fish and plums and prickly pears,
Not to mention the fried squirrel meats.

But I was a trader, not a trapper.
Osage stocked my beaver trade:
Beaver skins, the warmest wrapper,
Prized in Europe’s fanfaronade.

Shawnee children my wife befriended
When playing near the post we built.
Years passed; our cultures blended.
More French came; we grew full tilt.

Since we were always French at heart,
Long evenings, as release from care,
We laughed with France’s comic art,
Re-reading plays by genius Molière.

The land’s transformed from what I knew,
The population’s more diverse.
Still, people ensemble so much can do
(With Molière’s speeches to rehearse)
Sharing a timeless universe.

Mechele Leon will present at the UMKC Emeritus College’s annual dinner on November 8th, 2021. The title of her lecture is Molière as National Hero.

Attendance is open only to members of the Emeritus College and their guests, but the talk will be video-recorded and available for viewing by the public soon after the event.

The Alliance Française de Kansas City  has always good news to share!

In order to receive our monthly Newsletter, please Subscribe-to-Our-Mailing-List.

If you want to take classes, our new coordinator Aaron aburns@afkc.org is “à votre écoute”.

As always, you are welcome to our AFKC Events (virtual for now). Enjoy  the new Club de lecture in French, Zoom seminars, Lectures, Café Virtuel, family cooking time (Join us to make “crêpes” on Zoom Saturday February 20th).

We would love to count you as  an AFKC Member.

For more contents about “la langue de Molière”, don’t miss our FacebookAFKCPage.

A bientôt!

Join Molière fans at the KC MOlière: 400 in 2022s Book Club.

It’s a laid back, fun, hour-long discussion of a play chosen by the group which meets every two weeks on Mondays at 7:00 pm central.

And if you’re afraid it’s too intellectual, rest assured we talk about Taylor Swift and the Golden Girls along with Molière.

Go to MeetUp to join.

KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 is a 100% run volunteer organization, and we could not have done this work without our volunteers and generous donors.
Thank you!
Amanda Davison
Andrew Brown
Beth Ciperson
Bryan  & Christopher LeBeau
Calan Welder
Carol Burton
Catherine Morris
Catherine Tissot
Chantal and Aaron Roberts
Charles Reitz & Roena Haynie
Cheryl Diane Patrick
Chris LeBeau
Christopher Leitch
Col. & Mrs. William G. Eckhardt
Cynthia Gibson
Cyprienne Simchowitz & Jerry White
Dan & Ginnie Bukovac
Dennis Hennessy
Don Dagenais
Don and Patricia Dagenais
Donna Childs
Erik & Bev Elving
Felicia & Venne Londré
Fred & Trudie Homan
Gayle Levy
James & Sarah Weitzel
Jennifer Owen
Jim Weitzel
John & Cory Unrein
John Rensenhouse
Judith Zivanovic
Julián & Nathalie Zugazagoitia
Karin Bauer
Kay Lutjen Patterson
Linda & Topper Johntz
Lindsy Myers
Margaret Scanlon (Peggy Friesen)
Margo Quinconi
Melinda McCrary
Michael & Mary Etta O’Neill
Michael W. Beahm
Michel Minor
Topper Johntz
Network for Good
Newton Jones
Patience & Brian Jones
Patricia Cleary Miller
Paul Temme
R. Crosby Kemper III
Rebecca Smith
Rebekah P. Mosby
Sarah Ingram-Eiser
Steve Paul
Stuart Carden
The Hinds.Leitch Family Trust
Tom Mardikes
Tracy Terstriep
White-Simchowistz Family Charity Fund
Willow Baum
Did you know we are about 6 months from the beginning of our festivities with the school educational programs and arts community?

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