“The Bungler,” an early Molière play and perhaps the one that set him on the path to his current fame, is one of those rarely performed gems that is a perfect antidote for the sturm-und-drang of the world outside. The chozzerai happening in this commedia dell’arte-flavored world of Sicily is less about the Bungler himself, and more about the power of persistence.
This is one of few surviving plays from Molière’s years of wandering after a brief imprisonment for debt. Borrowing, as noted, from commedia dell’arte, the play is more structured yet still has much derring-do and delightful razor sharp wit. Richard Wilbur’s 2000 translation rarely been performed and this is a New Jersey premiere for this incarnation. The bar has now been set very high.
Brian Crowe is at the helm of this brilliance and has assembled an all star ensemble. Lélie (Aaron McDaniel) is a young man of Sicily who’s a bit of a him-bo. He’s not particularly smart and, when he sees something shiny, he pursues it. When he, and the other young men of his town, cast their eyes upon Célie (Sophia Blum), the comely slave girl that their prosperous and thrifty gentleman neighbor Trufaldin (Eric Hoffmann) has purchased as an investment, the romantic sparks fly between the two young people. Mascarille (Kevin Isola) is the superbly clever, dare I say devious, servant who will pursue his master’s ends to the nth degree, despite Lélie’s completely innocent bungling of … Every! Single! One! of Mascarille’s machinations to accomplish Lélie’s heart’s desire. Léandre (Sam Ashdown) is a different kind of frictive spark for Lélie, as he is Lélie’s rival in literally ALL things. Who will ultimately land Célie? You will need to see for yourself.
Isola’s Mascarille is worthy of Molière, who originated the role when he wrote it more than 350 years ago. The first thing noted was how little the world has changed. There are always rogues like Isola’s Mascarille who continue to use their wily powers for good–and Isola shines. Is it his wry, dry readings of the first play Molière wrote in verse, the expressive “takes” to the audience? Isola always plays the rogue in spades.
There are so many good reasons that the play first that brought Molière to his lasting international celebrity. There are always young people pursuing one another, who refuse to let well enough alone when adults are making arrangements. Yet Pandolfe (Drew Dix) arranges something for his Lélie that is not acceptable to the young man. Go figure. Hippolyte (Devin Conway) is Pandolfe’s choice for his son, yet she is in love with Léandre, who is single-minded in his pursuit of Célie, in part for himself and in part to deprive his rival of such a delicious prize. Hippolyte’s father Anselme is the brilliant James Michael Reilly, who is so wholly Anselme that we see the depth of Anselme’s vanity and self esteem in just a few strokes. This is a masterful portrayal. And what of Andres (Danilo Ottaviani) whose tall good looks, exoticism and timely arrival conspire to deprive the village of Célie altogether? Ottaviani is a man of many facets, as you soon see.
Brian Crowe with Paul Canada’s classic costumes and color scheme, Dick Block’s delightfully illustrative set and Andrew Hungerford’s lighting give us an animated look at an earlier time that is not so different from our own. Don’t bungle it! Get your tickets NOW at www.shakespearenj.org
. It’s closing on July 30, so act today!