Valdosta Daily Times

November 8, 2012

The Would-Be Gentleman

VSU Theatre finds the timeless wit of Moliere

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

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.

THE CAST: Will Stanley, Carlie Johnson, Leigha Witt, Sarah Beth Moseley, Ethan Parker, Chance Wall, Emmanuel Davis, Ashley Anderson, Josh Barcol, Maxwell Swangel, Larren Woodward, Mike Burson, Marie Harper, Andrew Ritfeld, Dennis May, Jake Martishius, Michael McClain, Blake Fountain, Michael Morgan, Tess Buis, Melanie Harkness, Elie Siegel, Casey Sams, Chae Loveland, Rishik Patel, John Timmers, Donovan Campbell, Tyrell Ruffin, Parish Morgan.

DIRECTION, PRODUCTION: Jacque Wheeler, director, choreographer; Dr. Christopher Bailey, original music; Ruth Brandvik, scenic and lighting design; Esther Iverson, costume design; Michael Driggers, technical director; Leslie Kirby, stage manager; Karl Wildman, vocal coach; Abby Vincent and Genna Kasun, assistant stage managers; Sarah Beth Moseley, fight choreographer/fight master; John Timmers, step choreography; Matthew Moran, sound design/engineer; Elie Siegel, assistant lighting design; Ryan Ponsell, assistant technical director; Patrice Trower, assistant costume designer; Dorothy Barnes, draper; Genna Kasun, master electrician; Rebecca Morris, master carpenter; Christa Bynum, properties master; Rebecca Morris, light board operator; Melanie Harkness, paint charge; Kathy Raess-Young, costume shop supervisor; Ryan Ponsell, Elie Siegel, Rebecca Morris, and Genna Kasun, scene shop assistants; Patrice Trower and Rebecca Huguet, costume shop assistants; THEA 2750 and THEA 3720A and 3720B, scene construction crew; THEA 3720C, costume construction crew; Caleb Spivey, box office manager; Asia Johnson and Amanda Markham, house managers