I blame the Freddies

My teenager will be the first to tell you that I think too much about things no one else will challenge.

And I’m about to go on a rant. This rant might make me unpopular in some circles.

And I blame it all on the Freddies.

Now, if you are not from the Lehigh Valley, you probably don’t know what the Freddies are. Basically, a local non-profit theater and the regional television station created a competition for high school musicals. (For more info, visit State Theatre for the Arts.)

In my opinion, this created a “need” for schools to do productions outside their range in order to look good in the local media. Our public schools should not have to prove the value of their arts programs via a popularity contest aired on TV.

Today the teenager and I went to see “Once Upon a Mattress” (the princess and the pea musical) at a fairly small local high school. The first thing that shocked me was paid adult musicians in the pit. It’s a high school play. Why aren’t there high school musicians? Isn’t it cheating to use paid musicians?

The kids did an amazing job, but the show seemed like some of the kids were out of their range or needed another week of rehearsal time. Which, in their defense again, it is very hard to pace a high school show to peak at the right time.

But I can’t find any fault with the performers. They gave their hearts and souls and full effort.

I just wish schools would stop pushing big production musicals if the student body isn’t equipped to do it. And so I blame the Freddies.

Now, for my second rant. This one is attacking the show from a feminist perspective.

The director says in her letter printed in the program that she was excited to do such a classic theatre piece with a strong female lead. She also praises the script for its themes, that people will find acceptance and love despite their quirks.

Poppycock.

This play is based on the premise that a woman has to pass tests and prove herself to be loved and accepted. That even other women will test a woman’s intentions and doubt her worth. Meanwhile, the father (the mute King Sextimus) chases every female character he encounters and the audience laughs.

And the Queen is hardest of all when it comes to accepting a mate for her son. She dreams up the impossible tests and only allows the marriage when she is suddenly struck mute.

She also gives a long monologue about how it’s fine that she be miserable in marriage and that’s her duty as a true princess.

Not to mention, we’re laughing at a play extolling arranged marriage. Now in the end, the castle staff fixes the test so the woman the prince loves will pass. Prince Dauntless then marries for love.

But he doesn’t marry for love.

He marries because she’s a princess. In the end, love didn’t unite them. Her princess status did. Which maybe you can argue because the Queen tries to stop it and Dauntless yells at his mother and insists he’s going to do it anyway. In my view, he waited too long to make that point valid.

Tartuffe at DeSales

Last night, I attended the audio-described performance of Tartuffe at DeSales University last night. The teenager and my blind friend, Nancy, accompanied me.

Act I Productions always does a fantastic job and at this point, I know the staff almost as well as Nancy. (I wrote more about this yesterday, Tartuffe tonight.)

I was technically an English Literature and Language major in college for my first bachelors degree, but probably three-quarters of my degree was actually theatre classes as “Doc” Jack Ramsey was my favorite professor and I was active in the theatre company. I was also technically a French minor, but I was only one class shy of a double major. About a decade after I graduated, I did take an additional French class at my alma mater (Moravian College) and several more at Lafayette College when I earned my second bachelors in International Affairs.

That’s a long-winded way to say I’m a huge nerd who has studied Moliere.

DeSales University has a great theatre department offering majors in various forms of performing arts, so their shows are always top notch.

They offer one performance of every major production as an audio described show for the visually impaired. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a great way to include everyone in theatre.

I also provided my companions with a mini-lesson in farce versus comedy, where farce is quicker paced, has more characters entering and exit, and includes more physical humor than mere comedy.

Additionally we discussed Moliere and 17th Century Drama in general. This particular play is almost 400-years-old. It tackles heavy themes, philosophizing about religion and God (or perhaps religion versus pure spiritual intentions), gullibility, and how to change someone’s mind when they can’t see the truth.

Moliere is only slightly more modern than Shakespeare and, and this is totally my opinion, I find the French drama more accessible, funnier and more sexually-charged than Shakespeare’s canon.

The basic premise, and one that angered the Roman Catholic Church, is that a wealthy man invites a beggar into his home. The beggar, Tartuffe, has demonstrated piety that has impressed the master of the house. Tartuffe then tries to win over the master’s goods and family, and almost succeeds. The family would have been left in ruins, if not for a convenient intervention of the king, which of course, was Moliere’s way of keeping in the good graces of the crown.

The production at DeSales included a brilliant set, the paint hues of the set walls shifted colors based at the lighting. They created the illusion of a huge estate house on a small stage with an amazing display of perspective. They designed a set with six doors, about twelve stairs and three levels in a comparatively small space.

I only noticed maybe two line mix-ups. Acting was solid. I’m starting to recognize some of the actors. I think the daughter and the stepmother might have been my favorite.

I thoroughly liked the translation. It maintained much of the original rhyme without sounding forced in English. And some of the word choice was very rich. I very much enjoyed the vocabulary.

The costumes deliberately code the characters. The daughter and her suitor, as young and naive lovers, wear pink and pale blue. The stepmother wears an elaborate gown of pale blue and a light turquoise. The father wears various shades of blue and purple, but the hot-headed son wears vivid orange.

The religious themes, and the theme of being suckered in and acting stupid, still hold true today. I feel like the American political climate also seems like a “Tartuffe” story.

To purchase tickets: DeSales Calendar: Tartuffe. Show runs next weekend as well.