Trinidad and Tobago


May the farce be with you

October 31, 2001

This being a land of theatre and tan-ta-na, our major comedy-script options are either portrayals of reality's inherent humour or the farce, exaggeration of normal existence to the point of absurdity. Evidently, we choose the latter.

Among the best known exponents of this style was 17th Century French playwright Moliere, whose broad swipes at the pretensive society of his day and comments on the arrogance of those responsible for its guidance, conspired to produce some of his most famous works.

In Tartuffe, a play that satirised religious hypocrisy, Moliere so incensed the dominant Roman Catholic Church that at his death nine years later, burial on holy ground only took place (and even so, under cover of a dark night) after his compere, King Louis XIV, intervened.

But in general, Moliere had no shortage of raw material, given the state of his nation at the time. However, freedom of expression was a concept of limited application, so the playwright was forced to revise the script of Tartuffe three times in as many years before a ban on performance was lifted.

The politics was even more tempting. Not unlike recent events here, it was all fodder to a farce-master. Were he in our time and place, Moliere might not even be required to write new plays. With little effort, he could seamlessly adapt some of his more famous works to prevailing circumstances, dovetailing nicely with the downtown style of cheap theatre to which we have suddenly become accustomed.

And although Moliere starred in and produced most of the plays he penned, certainly for the re-write of Le Medecin Malgre Lui (The Doctor in Spite of Himself), he'd find himself up to the neck with possible choices for the lead role.

Health Minister Hamza Rafeeq's derisive comment about "Little Women" (not the book), Fuad Khan's antics at large and Tim Gopeesingh's responses to claims that the North West Regional Health Authority was less than impressive in the conduct of its affairs; at least put them in the line up for auditions.

Casting should be considerably easier for the new version of La critique de l'ecole des femmes (The School for Wives Criticised). The same may be said of his masterpiece Le Misantrophe, a play in which the lead character frequently demands expressed allegiance. The remake, however, will have to find ways around a few tough concepts enshrined in the original, like truth and moderation.

Perhaps for so tough a task, Moliere might travel back to the source of farce, pieces produced since the 15th Century for annual secular festivals by law clerks and notaries, poking fun mostly at their seniors.

Doublespeak was kid stuff for the main character in L'avocat Patelin (Lawyer Patelin). In fact, like most lawyers, he spoke several dialects, a trick rendered less complicated by a forked tongue.

Alternatively, Moliere could maintain the integrity of his earlier works and go for current situations, told in today's language. It takes a playwright of such stature to interpret in a globally believable way, reality plots as preposterous as those occuring here daily.

Only the quintessential wordsmith could flesh out a scenario stopping just shy of conspiracy, but one in which the UNC deputy political leader could save his beloved party major embarrassment, by forcing a general election well in advance of court findings almost guaranteed to produce the same result.

Or, how would Moliere have portrayed the Opposition, who in the space of a mere month, dangled us about between the myth of a caretaker government, hysterics over the electoral list, internecine wrangling over choices for candidacy in the impending poll and a coalition that apparently never was?

With a gang of four that turns to three musketeers, with the fourth professing undying fidelity to the party's political leader, who then suspends the musketeers, only to be told a day later that the meeting at which such a decision was taken was null and void.

Then, a female television reporter is intimidated by the Prime Minister and within earshot of her colleagues, Cabinet Ministers get into an equally public brawl over jobs for the boys and after a history of belittling rebuffs—Voila!—Pan Trinbago suddenly gets a parcel of land to build its headquarters in the middle of election season.

Poor Moliere, we would have pushed him to the outer limits of excellence, demanding he distil enduring laughter from so pathetic and porous a political situation. After all, with less than six weeks to the general election, we're not even sure who comprises the United National Congress, never mind just a month ago it was the ruling party.

And if Moliere thinks a preference for social commentary over politics could get him off the hook, stop him fast. Just over the past week our cricketers demanded bodyguards to play the gentleman's game, a club proprietor literally shot himself in the foot and the status of an oil-spill depended on which parliamentarian is speaking at the time.

Perhaps, in the circumstances, we should mercifully leave Moliere to rest in peace.

...And may the farce be with you.

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