One Man's Moliere Is a Learning Experience for Students

Actor Timothy Mooney performed nine Moliere plays all by himself Tuesday

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16th century playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, still captivates theater audiences.

Nine plays, half a dozen wig changes and a single actor add up to "Moliere Than Thou," a whirlwind dramatic survey of the groundbreaking French playwright's monologues.

Held at Smith Warehouse Tuesday night, "Moliere Than Thou" featured Chicago-based playwright and actor Timothy Mooney as the 17th century comedian, abandoned by his cast and forced to perform excerpts from nine different plays on his own. The event was hosted by the Department of Romance Studies.

Beginning with Moliere's explanation that his theater troupe "ate bad shellfish at a local inn," the performance quickly raced through Moliere's most well-known works, including "Tartuffe," "Don Juan," and "The Misanthrope." Without a set and a cast, Mooney relied on audience participation and quick costume changes to bring Moliere's famous monologues to life. The audience roared as Mooney climbed over rows of chairs, confessed his love for certain attendees and switched from character to character in a matter of seconds.

Event organizer Michele Longino, a Romance Studies professor who teaches a seminar called "Moliere and the Phenomenon of Laughter," said she invited Mooney to perform because she wanted students to experience Moliere's timeless comedy.

"His theater was a great success in his time, and continues to draw the most enthusiastic audiences around the world even today," Longino said. "It is at once humbling and amusing to note that the antics of human beings have not vastly changed since the 17th century."

Mooney said he hopes seeing Moliere's characters' antics in a condensed format helped Duke students see the connections between themselves and the past.

"I think when a student realizes that they are intimately connected to the comedy, the ideas and the people of centuries past, they realize they are part of something larger than themselves," Mooney said. "We discover that those quirks and flaws of our own character have been faced and exposed and laughed at by people who lived hundreds of years ago. When that happens, suddenly we don't feel so small."

Junior Jacques Bristow, a student in Longino's seminar about Moliere, was pulled out of the audience to participate in an excerpt from "The Schemings of Scapin." Bristow said the experience was as hilarious as it was memorable.

"It was really entertaining," Bristow said. "He definitely took some artistic liberties with the audience interaction, but I really enjoyed it. I think I'll remember being up there and laughing with everyone else for a long time."

For more information about upcoming Department of Romance Studies events, visit http://romancestudies.duke.edu/news-events. For more information on "Moliere Than Thou," visit http://www.timmooneyrep.com.