Notes from the Field – Tartuffe in Rehearsal – by Erin Brandenburg

Erin Brandenburg
Today we run Act 2. Our quest; to make Moliere’s Tartuffe, “one of the very greats of all the literature,” as master director László Marton calls it, feel alive and contemporary. “The challenge of working on classic verse,” he says, “is it is difficult to be behind every line. But we will. It is the most beautiful thing in our mission to give this to the audience. To mean every word.”Rehearsals with László are a search for freedom and specificity. To find the scene while László, like a grey-haired, mischievous, Hungarian imp sits on your shoulder and yells encouragement and shouts instructions. A hearty “Yes!” is your reward for getting it right. It is a provocation and encouragement to go farther. He’s a task master and an accomplice; “don’t you want to use that line to put the needle into him?” “This hurt is the biggest pain in the whole world. Yours is so little now.” Or notes on seduction; “Go slowly, if you move too fast she goes away.” But always and most important, “get behind the lines, it is your pain, your passion, your desire, your anger. The soul doesn’t allow for more time here.” “It’s about getting to the heart of the situation and being brave enough to show what is most flawed or messy/brave/stupid, or most beautiful and human in the moment.”

Nothing is obvious. This is one of the most important things to remember in directing. But when it is right, you can feel it. “Now we have the right vibration in the brain for the scene – but structurally it is better here if you are sitting.” László says to Gregory Prest who plays Cléante.

After lunch rehearsal continues into Act 4. In one of the most famous scenes in the play, Diego Matamoros improvises a bit and pours water from a wine bottle onto his head then hands the bottle to Raquel Duffy who takes the cue and does the same. It’s a brilliant moment, and László giggles with glee. Later, he turns to Oyin Oladejo who plays Dorine, “I would love it at the very end if you would –” and he makes the sign of a tear down his face. She nods, and the next time through her eyes are moist with tears in a beautifully simple moment of emotion. It’s a testament to László’s belief in the actors and their dedication to him. He asks for more – farther, deeper, more extreme, searching for the heart of the story and his belief gives you the courage to do it.   “Words are not enough – the language of the performance expresses what is happening on stage.” It is more special, more mysterious, more strange and brutal than what the text expresses. “The stage has to express everything that you as a director have in your mind. Our job is to remind the audience what can happen – that it is better to stay human.”

Laszlo and Erin

László Marton & Erin Brandenburg in rehearsal.

While Tartuffe is one of the most famous comedies of all time, it is also a simple story of a family and a man who falls for deception and lies and, as a result, loses everything. This complexity is what makes it so great. “People usually don’t remember the part of the play where the family loses their home. They remember the comedy and the wigs and the costumes. But this could happen to any of us. You could lose everything.” The wonderful thing is that play is not about Tartuffe the hypocrite, but about us, the people who fall for him and believe his lies. This betrayal is at the heart of the play and is what makes it so dangerous. Later, while the scene goes on, László the grey-haired imp turns to me, his eyes sparkling and squeezes my hand. “Yes, that is the problem with us. We need Tartuffes.”

Tartuffe runs from August 7 to September 20.


About Soulpepper Theatre Company

Soulpepper, one of Canada's largest urban theatres, is an artist-centred company that celebrates the stories that move us and the artists who tell them. Soulpepper presents vital Canadian interpretations of the classics, and commissions, translates, and develops new work, creating a home for a diverse array of artistic expression across disciplines.

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