A new adaptation of Moliere's dark comedy, "George Dandin," will close out the University Theatre's 2003-04 William Inge Memorial Theatre Series.
Mechele Leon, assistant professor of theater and film, who adapted the text from a long-neglected 18th-century English translation, is directing the production.
When audiences think of the 17th-century French playwright MoliÃre, they usually think of his most famous play, "Tartuffe," Leon said. Rarely performed in the United States, "George Dandin" was written in 1668 and deals with social class and marital infidelity.
"It is a battle of the sexes as much as of social orders," Leon said. "Hence the alternate title, 'The Confounded Husband.'"
In the play, Dandin, a wealthy commoner, has bought his way into the aristocracy by marrying the daughter of penniless nobles. But his money is badly spent: His spirited bride is having a romance with a handsome nobleman. The humiliated Dandin attempts to expose his wife's infidelity, but his efforts are thwarted at every turn and the tables are turned against him.
Leon said the play was controversial when it premiered in Paris in 1668 and remained so well into the 18th century. The play scandalized the moralists of pre-Revolutionary France, who regularly denounced the play for its shameless depiction of adultery.
Equally important is a line of criticism that took root during the Revolution: This play is ultimately about the struggle between the classes.
"The play depicts a world in which attempts to rise above one's social station are futile. The effect of this play on the elite audiences of its day was to legitimize an immutable social order in which ranks remain in their place," Leon said. "For popular Parisian audiences, the play served as a warning against 'inappropriate ambitions.'
Leon, in her third year at KU, has degrees from the State University of New York, Empire State College and Cornell University. She also has a graduate degree from the University of Paris with a specialty in French theater of the 17th and 18th centuries.
In conjunction with the play, the theater and film department, University Theatre and the music and dance department will present "Lully and MoliÃre: A Colloquium and Concert" at 2 p.m. May 8 in the Inge Theatre.
Presenters include Leon, speaking on "George Dandin in Production"; Paul Scott, assistant professor of French and Italian, on "The Tragic Function of Comedy"; and Paul Laird, associate professor of music and dance, speaking on "Lully, Dance, and French Dramatic Music."
Following the presentations will be a concert by the Instrumental Collegium Musicum, directed by Laird, featuring excerpts from Jean-Baptiste Lully's "George Dandin" and "Alceste." Admission to the afternoon event is free.