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ASIDES: Looking for the Magic of Things

A Conversation with Tartuffe Director Dominique Serrand

By Lexi Diamond,
Serrand_DominiqueExcerpted from the Berkeley Repertory playbill

Tartuffe director Dominique Serrand took some time with us to shed light on his unique approach, his visionary production of Tartuffe, and his view on making theatre today.

LEXI DIAMOND: I’ve heard your approach described as devised and physical….

DOMINIQUE SERRAND: Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to find a space and create a piece that’s relevant to the world we live in today. If that’s what devised means, that’s what we are doing. Everything arrives in the room at the same time: the thought, the space, the company. And everything gets put together because of the particular people, the society of artists in that room at that time. The starting point is defined by the vision: why do this piece?

Your aesthetic mixes the dark with the humorous. You make really grand, epic images.

It depends on the production— some are epic and magical. I would say that Tartuffe is more epic, less magical. There’s no set change, it’s all in one day, one long light cue (it’s made up of 400 cues, of course, but it should feel like one). It’s more like a tragic-epic piece, with Molière’s vitriolic humor, of course.TARTUFFE_017

Can you speak a little bit about your relationship with your actors?

The beautiful thing with a company of actors, which I’ve always had, is that you grow old together. Luverne Seifert, who started playing the young lover, now plays the father. They all know how the parts play. It comes from the old commedia dell’arte companies where you learn the young parts when you start your career and then the middle-aged parts and then the old parts. By the time you get to the old ones, you’ve played all of them, so there’s a familiarity and a language within the company, which is very rare.

What’s your relationship like with designers?

I’ve worked with Marcus [Dilliard, the lighting designer] for decades. It’s quite simple. We talk at length about the vision, the space, the purpose of the production. We talk about how it should work rhythmically, how we create a movement and an emotion with lights. And then I sit in the room and he lights it. And we have more conversations the next day and he makes some changes. We don’t actually stop and tech, step by step. Of course, this would not be possible if we did not know each other very well. There is friendship and a lot of trust involved, besides enormous talent.

[Check out this feature abou the lighting design of Tartuffe in the Washington Post.]

How does farce play a role in this production?

Steven Epp and Luverne Seifert in South Coast Repertory's 2014 p

Steven Epp as Tartuffe and Luverne Seifert as Orgon in South Coast Repertory’s 2014 production of Molière’s Tartuffe, adapted by David Ball, directed by Dominique Serrand. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

Tartuffe was created, in its first version, as a farce in three acts. The script we have is a result of all the censorship and all the rewrites—five acts, the final ending that Molière wrote. And so we said, “Well, if the first one was a farce about devouts and bigots, the last iteration is one that is absorbed with the pain caused by the censorship and the absolute meanness that surrounded the production.” So our production reflects the fight that Molière was going through. It’s not at all a farcical interpretation. It’s more of a tragic approach. But at the same time, of course, the comic scenes between lovers and servants are funny because they are.

What is the appetite like for farce in today’s audiences?

I’ve been distancing myself from farce for at least a decade. I pursue the humor, of course, which is necessary. A part of me is funny, and that’s the way we are. But I think it takes different tones with maturity.

You can see it reflected in the older artists. It becomes more muscular. The farce was more present in the younger years as a company. When you’ve done it for many years, it’s part of your muscle, so it’s always there somewhere.

A great example is Luverne, who plays Orgon, the patriarch. Luverne has worked with me for years. He is a natural comic actor, extremely funny. And I asked him to not be funny at all. And it’s beautiful: naturally funny actors, when they turn to tragedy, are often more moving because they have a sense of their own ridicule.

Who are your greatest theatrical inspirations whom you look to?

Many. Ariane Mnouchkine from the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris. We started wanting to work with her, and she said no, go and make your own. That’s how [Simon McBurney’s Théâtre de] Complicite got started, how we got started—we were all in class together, within a few years. [Our teacher] Jacques Lecoq always said, you have to go and create companies. The work has to be seen, and you have to reinvent it.dominique3

When I was a young man in Paris, all the best theatre from around the world would come once a year, and we were exposed to the greatest: the Polish, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Romanians, the Spanish, the Italians, the Dutch. So that was my influence.

Probably the second greatest influence for me was Pina Bausch.

Tartuffe runs through July 5 at Sidney Harman Hall.

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