The University with a French name welcomed a taste of French culture with three performances last week by LIllustre Théâtre de lUniversité de Notre Dame du Lac of the 17th century play “Les Fourberies de Scapin” by Molière.
Under the direction of Professor Paul McDowell, nine undergraduate students culminated their work in the fall semester course, “French Theatre Production,” by acting in a genuine, full period costume French play. The performance marked the 13th year the French plays have entertained sellout audiences since McDowell first introduced the course to the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
“The first night set the standard very high, and we were able to raise that bar a little more each following night,” said Danny Kettinger, a junior who played the title character.
The show opened on Thursday with a near sell-out, the Friday performance sold out, and additional chairs were brought in Saturday to accommodate an overflow crowd.
For the first time, the play took place in the Regis Philbin Studio Theatre of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts. The Philbin Theatre is a cutting-edge black box theater that seats an audience of 100 on all sides of the stage. The French plays previous venue had been Washington Halls Lab Theatre, and the LaFortune Ballroom in its fledgling year.
McDowell greeted the opening of the Performing Arts Center and the change in the plays venue with enthusiasm.
“I didnt hesitate to try to get my foot in the door there,” he said. “The Lab Theatre is not lacking for charm at all, but it has pillars that cause sightline obstruction and it has horrible acoustics because of a very high ceiling. In the Philbin Theatre, there are no sightline obstacles or obstructions and the acoustics are so good that I can actually have my actors whisper.”_p. "
_ Les Fourberies des Scapin," a three-act farce, features the story of a scheming servant, Scapin, helping two young men marry their sweethearts against their fathers wishes. Members of the audience received an English synopsis that McDowell described as “a huge lifeline for the people who dont speak French.”p. Kettinger emphasized that because of the actorsgestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and the slapstick humor of “Scapin,” “You really dont have to know French to really have a few belly laughs.”
“I try and accentuate physical humor as much as I can,” McDowell said. “This particular play is loaded with physical humor, so obviously that needs no translation, thats pretty universal. I really believe that the only way to keep an audience is to keep them laughing. And, luckily, Molière wrote some 30 comedies, so Ive got quite a ways to go before I have to retire this idea.”
While other universities host French plays, it is unusual for undergraduate students to act in one that is part of the curriculum. Another unusual aspect of the plays is that most of the students have never acted before.
Mary Twetten, a junior who played a tearful young woman named Hyacinte, was one of the exceptions. Twettens theater experience includes acting in high school and teaching drama in achievement programs for inner-city youths in Chicago and New York.
Despite her extensive theater background, Twetten said, “(The French play) is definitely a different perspective on acting than Ive ever had before. I love the idea of acting in French because, when you act, you have to really become someone else. And in this sense, you have to become someone French. And someone French from a Molière play in the 17th century its a totally different experience.”
Other students who performed in “Scapin” included Estefania Gamarra, Becket Gremmels, Adrienne Larson, Anne Macrander, Brian McElroy, Mansour Ourasanah and Marco Sandusky. Aimeé Shelide served as the plays student director. All of the students have had French language experience through coursework at Notre Dame, and most participated in the Notre Dame study abroad program in Angers, France, during their sophomore or junior years.
Kettinger, who memorized the most lines for the play, said, “I have no acting experience. You dont need acting experience as long as you have energy, enthusiasm, and as long as you can handle constructive criticism I think a lot of people dont realize how creative they can be and how much fun they can have while being creative.”
Although he was initially hesitant to participate in the course, Kettinger already plans to take part in the play again next year. “Its been a lot of fun. I definitely want to come back for more Its worth every effort,” he said.
Kettinger attributed both his decision to audition and his positive experience with the play to McDowell.
“Hes such a great motivator,” Kettinger said. “As long as hes around, Im confident that the Molière plays will continue to flourish. He really is the driving force behind it. Merci beaucoup.”