Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

November 8, 2012

The Would-Be Gentleman

VSU Theatre finds the timeless wit of Moliere

VALDOSTA — Most people put on airs, at times. Some more than others. Yet, everyone hopes to improve their station in life.

Such is the story of Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere’s comedy, “The Would-Be Gentleman,” opening this evening as Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s latest production.

Jourdain is a successful tradesman who wishes to become a gentleman. He’s willing to spare no expense to purchase a bit of class which leads to several masters willing to teach Jourdain the rudiments of dance, manners, philosophy, fencing, etc., to make him a gentleman and make themselves some money. Of course, in their greed, the masters are revealed to be as arrogant and ignorant as Jourdain.

“So many people are trying to be what they’re not,” says Jacque Wheeler, the show’s director. “With Jourdain, we get to enjoy his ridiculousness.”

Through Moliere, audiences can recognize the timeless nature of this character defect while enjoying the French playwright’s satirical genius for skewering the pompous.

“The Would-Be Gentleman” was first performed Oct. 14, 1670 for King Louis XIV, according to VSU Theatre & Dance. At the king’s request, Moliere included a Turkish ceremony, which serves as the crowning touch to this outlandish comedy. Moliere even played the lead role of Jourdain.

For modern audiences, Wheeler has added elements of farce and replaced composer Jean Baptiste Lully’s stiff music of the era with the more uptempo works of Rossini and original songs by Dr. Christopher Bailey.

Wheeler also touched upon the Commedia dell’Arte tradition of slapstick via choreographed acrobatics and dance. But Jourdain remains the primary focus of Moliere’s savage wit.

“Moliere pokes fun at Jourdain’s urgent desire to do anything he can to become a respected member of the upper class,” Wheeler says in her director’s note. “... His bumbling efforts to marry his daughter to someone of high rank lead to humorous complications.”

These bumbling efforts are worth noting. Enjoy the splendor of the outrageous costumes of the French court, but don’t let them or the premiere year of 1670 keep you away from this show. Several years ago, VSU Theatre presented Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” which was a howling comic success, even if it was more than 300 years old.

It is Moliere’s timeless wit that should keep “The Would-Be Gentleman” relevant while the 17th century Jourdain’s attempts to be something he is not will have many in the audience thinking of someone they likely know here in the 21st century.

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