Le roman de monsieur de Molière at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde: A review

Le Roman de Monsieur Molière au Théâtre du Nouveau Monde – Photo/Yves RENAUD

Between modernism and traditionalism: the constant debate between Corneille and Molière

The theatre adaptation of Mikhaïl Boulgakov’s novel Le roman de monsieur de Molière by the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde comments on the playwright’s chaotic life, and paints a vivid picture of the anxieties of devoting one’s life to being an artist. 

The audience did not need to be an aficionado of Molière to understand the intricacies of the play. 

The newly-restored Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, following the fire that erupted in the building earlier this year, seated 800 people and was nearly full. Most of the audience seated in the orchestra seemed of retired age, while younger people sat in the balcony.  

Though Molière’s life has been profusely copied and reimagined, this performance is contrasted by the unique proximity between the author and Molière. 

The 20th-century Ukrainian author Mikhaïl Boulgakov, much like Molière, was an artist unrecognized for his genius. They were both censured and silenced for their prose, receiving recognition after their deaths. 

Boulgakov plays on this theme in his novel, as is also present throughout the play, standing on the sidelines observing his written work unravel in front of him. Boulgakov’s and Molière’s characters intertwine and untwine themselves to unite and individualize their realities. 

For instance, Boulgakov frequently uses the first-person singular when narrating the play, as if he was himself Molière. While the story unfolds, Boulgakov never leaves the stage: he stays still, as a spectator. 

The audience barely notices him, as his movements are often immobilized by his role as narrator. He uses asides when he notes something specific that cannot be translated into action. 

The two-hour play, without intermission, highlights the continual chaos that surrounded Molière’s life as he was exposed to the pitfalls of wanting to resemble the great Corneille in tragedy, while never receiving the appraisal he thought he merited. 

The show played between themes of modernity and tradition, the former being reflected by Molière and the latter by Corneille. Their rivalry occupied most scenes, and made for a constant battle for mastering words that were both dramatic and entertaining. They played on words taken from their works while inlaying humorous formations as a form of satire. 

Jean de La Fontaine, the 17th-century French poet, was represented as a medium between the two. His character spoke his lines comically, referring to his previous works quite humourisly.

Boulgakov narrated Molière’s life as he acted on stage. This gave the audience a deeper understanding of his inner thoughts. There were short representations taken from his other plays, namely L’écoles des femmes, L’Avare and Tartuffe. 

Molière and his company L’Illustre Thêatre would often play out scenes that foreshadowed the well-known plays that would then be created. For example, when Molière was sick, and his wife Armande responded that no doctor would come to see him because of his work, the audience understood that Le médecin malgré lui had been written. 

The audience could understand the chronology of the story and Molière’s rising fame through costume changes. The dresses of the comedians became fancier and more intricate, and the vest Molière wore went from simple black to polished silver — a symbol of his rising social standing as a comedian who was being acknowledged. 

The first scene mirrors the last, as a bath is used for Molière’s birth and death. 
The show will go on tour across the province beginning Jan. 18.

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