By Geri Silk
One of my most delicious delights of my summer so far was seeing Molière’s The Bungler at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison.
In fact, it was so nice, I saw it twice. The Bungler is a rollicking comedy about an inept gentleman (Lelie, played by Aaron McDaniel) who is enraptured by an exotic young woman (Celie, played by Sophia Blum) and his efforts to woo her.
Lelie engages in the strategizing of his man servant ( Mascarille, played by Kevin Isola) to pursue her, because he realizes that he is totally inept at handling affairs of the heart.
The plot is simple: It enumerates the many failings of Lelie to pursue Celie because he is such a bungler.
Loosely translated, that means he is a klutz at love. The hysteria mounts as each effort that Lelie puts forth is thwarted by his clumsiness as he innocently botches up Mascarille’s clever love snares.
Time and again Mascarille tries different solutions to capture the heart of the lovely Celie, but Lelie gets in the way and makes for a hilarious catastrophe.
What is ingenious about this production is that it is done in the authentic 17th century style, with all the rhythm, zest and hyperbole of a true Molière production.
The play was first staged in Lyon, France, in 1655. The original French language is in a lavish flowery style of rhymed couplets–for which Molière had become famous.
The amazing thing is that Richard Wilbur, an Englishman, created an equally florid translation that is just plain fun to listen to, and to be amazed at the preciosity of the rhymes.
The audience sits in anticipation at how cleverly the next lines of dialogue tumble forth from the actors’ mouths.
Even if you don’t catch all the clever dialogue, the play is full of outrageous comedy bits, takes, pratfalls, etc., called lazzi.
These improvised comedic flourishes have been passed down through the generations from one actor to the next, so that a physical joke created in the 1600s may have made it into contemporary productions.
These classic comedy routines are part of the great Italian style theatre known as commedia dell’arte, in which various stock character are used again and again.
For instance, the wildly hilarious Mascarille is the classically clever and wily servant. In this production Aaron McDaneil rightfully steals the show.
Lelie and Celie are the moonstruck lovers, swooning over each other at any given moment.
Today we see this comedy shtick in characters such as The Three Stooges, Everybody Loves Raymond or Chevy Chase’s ridiculous slap stick.
Brian B. Crowe is the brilliant director who makes this comedy dance away effortlessly.
He has captured the spirit of Molière completely.
Costumes by Paul Canada are somehow a spoof on the period style, with a lot of sexiness built in.
I cannot recommend this show The Bungler highly enough.
Why am I such a devotee of Molière ?
I directed Molière’s The Miser for my Masters thesis at Carnegie Mellon, and studied him intensively.
Brian Crowe’s production has all the erudite foundation and lots of the festive frills and ebullience befitting a true evening of genius.
The remaining shows are Saturday, July 29, 2017, at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sunday, July 30 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $52-$62.
Geri Silk is a Dance Movement Therapist, poet, and amateur flute player in the Morristown area.