Il Borghese Gentiluomo: 17th Century Humor and Class

By Zoë Sonnenberg (Stanford University)

Teatro della Pergola’s production of Moliere’s Il Borghese Gentiluomo presented an Italian translation of a 17th century French play staged for a 21st century audience.  With so many degrees of separation, how well could it read?

This production quieted the hum of the audience with the sound of the orchestra warming up, the room filled with eager anticipation.  This play, directed by Armando Pugliese and starring Emilio Solfrizzi, featured a powerhouse creative team, and the audience knew before the house lights fell.  Indeed, Solfrizzi and the rest of Pugliese’s ensemble carried themselves with the confidence, intentionality, and finesse of practiced performers.  It felt, at times, like I was watching a Shakespeare company.

The plot Il Borghese Gentiluomo has its rather Shakespearean moments.  A satire the status-hungry French bourgeois, the story follows Monsieur Jourdain as he attempts to thrust himself, and his begrudging family, into the world of the aristocracy.  It has all the strappings of a great Shakespearean comedy, replete with songs and dance, moments of slapstick, a nursemaid, young love separated by familial obligation, and successful disguise behind a costume beard.

The comedic moments were fantastic.  Scenes with Solfrizzi’s Jourdain in his various lessons had the audience rolling, particularly during the scene with the philosopher.  Solfrizzi’s hilarious timing as he mimicked his teacher’s vowels and marveled as the fact that he has spoken in prose his whole life were delightfully ridiculous.  He commanded the stage with ease and comfort.

Madame Jourdain was herself a force to be reckoned with, her asserted power an excellent foil for her husband’s antics.  The ensemble, too, were remarkable, each playing a slew of characters and tumbling, singing, and dancing across the stage throughout the performance.

The final scenes of the play smack unfortunately of 17th century exoticism.  After Jourdain has forbidden his daughter, Lucile, from marrying her love Cleonte because he is not aristocratic, Cleonte dresses as a Turkish prince and convinces Jourdain to allow his daughter to marry into foreign royalty.  Though the scenes feature some funny moments of mistranslation, they also feature both dialogue and staging that rely heavily on outdated stereotypes.

Even still, Il Borghese Gentiluomo provides a commentary on socioeconomic status coated in humor; you will be laughing in your seat, and thinking about the production all the way home.

Leave a Reply