Lawrence Harbison, our very own critic, usually brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York; but in this column, Larry shares his thoughts on the Strange New World of streaming theatre.
And now, For Something Completely New and Different, I recently had my first experience with Streamed Theatre, a production of Molière’s TARTUFFE, presented online by Molière in the Park in association with Alliance Française. Maybe I will get used to this as I watch more streamed productions as this dreadful pandemic wears on; but I have to say, watching a play on my computer screen just ain’t the same as real theatre.
This just in: TARTUFFE has been extended through 12 July, streaming on https://www.youtube.com/moliereinthepark
That said, this production of Molière’s classic about flim-flammery in the name of religion was a good choice in the Era of Trump as evangelical so-called Christians have drunk the Kool-Aid; so much so that a large chunk of them are under the delusion that this repugnant non-Christian is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Lord, have mercy …
Back to this production: before it begins, we get not one but three introductions, one by the director, one by the Artistic Director and one by “Molière.” The first two make now-obligatory statements about how Black lives matter and how racial injustice has to end, etc., and finally “Molière” appears in a period costume, heavily made up and wearing a bright pink wig. My first thought was that he was Randy Rainbow, but I was disabused of this notion quickly as the actor (not credited in the program) was Not Funny, just annoying. When all three speeches were finished, the production began.
What I saw was a handsome interior set, up on my screen for a rather long time as I waited for the actors to enter. They didn’t. Instead, they started popping up in their own separate boxes. It took me a while to get used to this; but, finally, I did and sat back to enjoy the acting by the African American cast (except for Jennifer Mudge as Dorine, the saucy maid, and Raúl Esparza in the title role), which was actually pretty good given the limitations of Zoom. I’m not a fan of cross-gender casting, but I have to admit Samira Wiley was delightful as the deluded father, Orgon. Esparza was more than pretty good – he was terrific. All of the actors handled translator Richard Wilbur’s rhymed couplet verse extremely well.
While the actors do their thing in their boxes, a running chat board was at the right side of my screen, and many viewers used this to post commentary, most of it rather inane. After a while, I ignored this and just focused on the acting.
The whole experience made me more than a little sad, though. As Sir exclaims in THE DRESSER, “What have I been reduced to?”
"It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry."
—George F. Will
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”