Theatre Preview: Turcaret-icious

By Simon Mallett

Gross class division and corruption among the upper class mired the reign of Louis XIV of France. The University of Calgary’s Department of Drama revisits that time of turmoil with the first production of its season, Alain-Rene Lesage’s 18th Century French farce Turcaret. As the French Revolution brought about the end of Louis’ reign, the play seems appropriate as we approach a potential social transition, both north and south of the border.

The play revolves around Turcaret (Dan Perrott), a tax collector who has fallen for the Baronne (Janet Downie), a widow who has spent and given her inheritance away. Fortunately for her, Turcaret is happy to provide tokens of his affection, both extravagant gifts and large sums of money. However, the Baronne has an infatuation of her own, the Chevalier (Damon Savill) to whom she gives the majority of the gifts she receives. Chevalier’s servant Frontin (Braden Griffiths), though, is at the centre of the storm, fleecing the unaware aristocrats, trying to gain his own small fortune. It’s an ongoing whirlwind of deception and double-crossing, getting more complicated and amusing as new characters and relationships are introduced. It’s French farce at its finest, building to a climax that will have audiences laughing.

All of the various plotting plays out on an almost bare stage, with a bench in the middle and a painted mirror at the rear. The clever silhouetting of actors behind the mirror allows characters to be seen before they enter, a necessity in French farce.

The minimalist set and lighting puts the focus squarely on the twelve-member cast, and they rise to the challenge with solid performances all around. Dressed in wonderfully elaborate costumes and wigs, each character has their share of unique personality quirks, mannerisms and styles of speech. Griffiths provides the audience with an inside perspective on the ongoing antics and he’s mesmerizing with his magnetic energy.

As the director’s note in the program states, Turcaret serves as an “expose of a society in precarious transition motivated by desperation, venality and greed.” While this may reference Louis’ France, it could just as easily be found in today, but at least in this case it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.

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