Les précieuses ridicules de Molière,
accompagnées de quelques fables de La Fontaine
Almanzor, practical servant to a trio of provincial social climbers who have only recently arrived in Paris, "the center of good taste," opens the play with a fable about the dangers of going against the flow (The Drowned Woman). Two victims of such behavior, the perfectly suitable suitors Du Croisy and La Grange, have just been rejected by the women they had come to propose to but who found them lacking the social graces that are all the rage in Paris. The two would-be husbands decide to get their revenge by setting up La Grange's pretentious valet Mascarille to... but are interrupted in their plotting by M. Gorgibus, an aged, wealthy but still somewhat rustic widower whose daughter and nieces are the object of the men's suit. He is anxious to marry them off and is mystified to see himself and his charges rebuffed by such desirable potential sons-in-law. He sends the mocking servant Marotte for his daughter, Madelon and his nieces, Cathos and Toinette, to find out what went wrong. He rages against their fancy tastes, only to learn that the young women, avid readers of the latest romance novels, will have nothing to do with marriage until they have seen a bit of Paris, frequented the best society and had a chance to be wooed and won with wit and gallantry, in short, to live out the fantasies they have been reading about. Gorgibus gives them short shrift and the choice between marriage and the convent. Disturbed by his lowly, "material" nature, the young women are quickly consoled by learning of the unexpected visit of a "Marquis" de Mascarille and a "Baron" de Sganarelle. They exit quickly to prepare for their aristocratic visitors, leaving their servants, Marotte, Dorine and Almanzor free to mock them by acting out a fable about the dangers of trying to be "bigger" than nature intended (The Frog Who Wants to Be as Big as the Ox).
The "Marquis" and the "Baron" arrive in somewhat tarnished splendor to grace the young women with their presence, abusing their hapless drivers along the way and prompting a fable hinting at their true nature and at what may be their ultimate fate (The Rat and the Elephant). These marvels of vanity then vie with each other to impress their hostesses by demonstrating their "noble" qualities: impromptu verse, original song, sumptuous dress, etc. The young women are predictably dazzled by such empty chatter and extravagant mannerisms, and the servants poke fun at all of them yet again in The Crow and the Fox. Mascarille and Sganarelle's friend, the "Vicomte" de Jodelet, shows up to complete the matched set, and the trio overwhelm the young women with tall tales of courageous combat, risqué displays of war wounds and bouts of name-dropping. This gives the domestics cause for renewed mockery (The Crow Who Wanted to Imitate the Eagle). At Sganarelle's suggestion, Madelon sends for musicians to throw an impromptu dance, the ultimate mark of gentility, only to have the party crashed by Du Croisy and La Grange. Having allowed ample time for the success of their revenge, they burst in (twice) to beat the unfortunate "Marquis," "Baron" and "Vicomte" and strip them of their borrowed finery, revealing them to be the affected valets they had set up to ensnare the "précieuses" and make them realize the folly of their snobbish ways. Gorgibus returns amidst the shambles, runs off the musicians, rebukes his daughter and nieces (who, in turn, banish the would-be aristocrats), and fulminates against the audience for enjoying such goings-on as well as the frivolous writings that inspire them. The final point is brought home to him and to all by a final fable about accepting one's natural lot, or not "forcing one's talent," (The Ass and the Little Dog).
12 (5 w / 7 m)*
Approx. 1 hr 15 mins
Minimal (chairs, child's wagon or like comic vehicle for "chaise à porteurs," violin, swimming noodles for beatings, etc.
As minimally or elaborately seventhenth century as desired. Masks and fans a must, the more feathers and outlandish attire for the disguised valets the better.
* gender of domestic roles & Gorgibus adaptable
# of characters:
Originally performed by the 1996 Comédiens Carolingiens troupe, then revised for 2011 troupe, which was larger and thus led to the creation of an additional niece (Toinette) and an additional masquerading valet (Sganarelle). Gorgibus was also transformed into a curmudgeonly widow, Mme Gorgibus. PDF of 1996 smaller-cast version available upon request.
Animal masks created by Sandra Persels and carnival mask by troupe member Malinda Cash (Madelon) for the 2011 production.