A 17th century satire may seem far from our concerns as finals’ week approaches and Slope Day awaits. But the “flawed fools” of Moliére’s The Jealous Husband, running this weekend at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, are far from foreign and perhaps even familiar.
The Jealous Husband follows Barbouille (Skyler Schain ’13), a cantankerous drunkard who suspects his free-spirited wife Angelique (Julie Reed ’12) of infidelity. Barbouille turns to a pedantic, self-absorbed Scholar (James Miller ’12) and a variety of other zany characters in his efforts to catch her in the act. But with their flawed advice and his failed attempts, he finds that forgiveness is the best revenge.
This one act play is set in the style of the Italian commedia del’ arte and as such uses exaggerated and almost farcical characters in order to comment on social types. Student Director Carlos Guerrero ’10 studied commedia del’ arte in Italy as a sophomore and says the power of this style, and especially of The Jealous Husband, are their accessibility; in the exaggerated characters, we end up finding ourselves. For college students, in particular, “the themes of jealousy, love, and alcoholism” resonate and so it is precisely through farces like The Jealous Husband that we are able to “poke fun at all of our vices, but also get to reflect on how to change them,” Guerrero said.
Like most productions in the Black Box Theater, The Jealous Husband is primarily student-run. The intimacy of Black Box is particularly suited for this play in which the characters do not just interact with each other, but improvise with the audience. As one cast member pointed out, the nature of The Jealous Husband is that it “could be different from night to night.”
The spontaneity comes, in great part, from exercises that Guerrero did with the cast when they first started rehearsing, said Stage Manager Tim Fasano ’10. Among other exercises, Guerrero had the students play “clown,” in which they had to enact absurd situations without speaking. The result was a much freer, confident cast and a much more improvisational play.
The energy that the cast brings to the production is palpable. Each character is uniquely absurd and each actor brings out this absurdity to the fullest. Yet the direction of the play is controlled not just by one character, but by the collective cast. In the most climatic moments the characters move almost as a whole and each individual action paces seamlessly into the respective reaction.
From the eccentric 17th century costumes to the sexual innuendoes, The Jealous Husband is hilariously well executed and surprisingly relatable. In Barbouille we may see the guy from the frat party last night and in the Scholar, perhaps one of our professors. Whatever the case, we are bound to be laughing with and at the characters and ourselves.
So take a short break this weekend and head over to the Schwartz Center. You may just be surprised to find in The Jealous Husband, a world not so far from Cornell and characters not so far from yourself.
The Jealous Husband will be performed Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m.