The National Theatre of Greece has performed another classic play and streamed it around the world. The play is Michael Bulgakov’e Moliere, and it was performed only once on February 6, 2021 in an empty theatre in Athens for the purpose of streaming it.
It is a redoubtable performance of a play with a rich history under Soviet censorship in the era of Stalin in the 1930’s. The production and the streaming had its problems, but some are in the nature of streaming and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
Director Stathis Livathinos and the artistic staff of the National Theatre of Greece faced a multifaceted play, with a large cast and several scene changes.
Bulgakov was a great admirer of Moliere and the play works on at least two levels. One is the story of the great 17th century playwright in the last years of his life. Behind the curtains of the Palais Royale theatre in Paris, Moliere is beset by problems with the state, the church, actors, and his loves.
He is living in an absolute monarchy where “The Sun King,” is a temperamental dictator who must admired, fawned upon, and grovelled to in order to keep his favour. He can favour you and you will soar, and he may turn on you and heaven knows your fate.
The Catholic Church is a powerful factor in French life, and no one can gainsay or ridicule that institution with impunity. Moliere did just that and the Church turned on him with a vengeance. The Archbishop of Paris (played by Michalis Valasoglou) has taken up the fight against Moliere for his treatment of religion and the church and wants to destroy him. The subtitle of the play is A Cabal of Hypocrites and that is exactly what Moliere had to face.
Moliere has problem with his actors and his personal life is in turmoil. He is in love with a woman who is many decades younger than him and he betrays the woman who had stood by him and took care of him for a very long time.
That is one facet of the play that is just as much about Moliere in the 17th century as it is about Bulgakov in the 20th century. The King in Moliere is Stalin and in Bulgakov’s life. The play reflects a playwright’s life in a totalitarian regime run by a brutal dictator, subject to the whims of bureaucrats under the absolute control of the Communist party as interpreted by apparatchiks.
Stamatis Fasoulis plays a marvellous Moliere. He is a man beset with troubles from almost all angles. His personal life is a mess, his professional life is uncertain because he has backstage problems and, much worse, he lives in fear of losing favour with the king. Worse he is considered as Satan by the Archbishop of Paris and as someone who has committed a mortal sin. Armande (Amalia Tsekoura) the young woman that he marries is not the sister of his long-time friend Madeleine (Maria Savvidou) but his daughter. Or so he is accused. Fasoulis must face all these facets of Moliere.
Fasoulis struts around the stage trying to deal with and fight off the myriad of problems that Moliere faces. He is the centre of the action and gives a stellar performance. Most of the other characters are satellites that revolve around him lending some support or as the cabal of hypocrites conspiring and plotting against him. He betrays Madeleine and is betrayed by Armande with the handsome, romantic actor Moirron (Stathis Koikas)
Nikos Kordonis underplays King Louis. As the Sun King who has some sympathy for Moliere, I thought he should be far more arrogant and even his apparent generosity should be seen as inherent cruelty.
The play has some 19 characters and several scene change. Livathinos and lighting director Alekos Anastasiou provide mostly dark lighting with little exposure of the surrounding scenery. This may look better on the stage than it does on a television screen, but it made for uncomfortable watching at home. The facial expressions of some of the actors were not adequate and the scene changes were not entirely easy to follow.
We should keep in mind that this was a single performance for the purpose of streaming. There was no audience, no rehearsals (I assume) in front of an audience or in front of their computers or television sets. Under the circumstances watching a live performance across the Atlantic is no small achievement.
Moliere by Michael Bulgakov was streamed on February 6, 2021 live from the main stage of the Ziller Building, Athens, Greece. For more information visit: www.n-t.gr