Would-Be Gentlemen

On stage at Scripps College, a young woman dressed as a 50-year-old French fop tries in vain to learn ballet from her dance instructor. The results are clumsy and comical – an ideal result for two actors rehearsing a scene from Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman) – but their lines are coming out a little too softly for Professor of French Eric Haskell.

“Plus fort! Plus fort!” Haskell shouts in French. “Louder! Louder!” The students repeat Molière’s lines obligingly, the rhythms of each word building melodically even as they’re shouted.

The catch? This isn’t a translation – it’s all in French.

French 131 is a class unlike any other at The Claremont Colleges; the students onstage are participants in “French Theater from Text to Stage: The Tragic and Comic Muse,” a course combining both critical analysis of text and theater. The class covers French drama from medieval to modern times before holding auditions preparing students for their own performance during second half of the semester.

Team-taught by Haskell and Boucquey, the class is a distinctly Scripps College experience. Its origins lay in a French cabaret show Haskell produced on campus for a number of years. When Boucquey – who specialized in medieval drama in graduate school – came to the College, the two were able to transform an extracurricular activity performed in The Motley into the class. “It had true grassroots beginnings,” says Haskell. “Now it’s the most popular French class offered at the five colleges.”

Many students have never been onstage speaking in English, let alone French. “I’ve never had any theater experience before,” says Allison Kupsco ’11. “But my favorite part of the class is from the beginning of the semester, when we’d be asked randomly to act out parts of our readings. You have to go over the top and not be self-conscious.”

“I don’t know of any other schools that perform French plays in French,” Haskell says. “College and high school students come from all over to see our show because it’s the only thing like it around.”

The class also works closely with Pomona College Professor of Theatre Sherry Linnell’s costume class. Catherine Sweatt ’12, who plays the role of eccentric Baronne de Z in a scene from a Jean Tardieu mystery, is excited to collaborate with both the Theatre Department and Haskell in envisioning her character’s costume. “It’s going to be fabulous,” she says. “Haute couture, ostrich feathers, satin, and jewels!

“This class has expanded my idea of what academic education is,” adds Catherine. “People think it’s just reading and writing, but with mise-en-scène, we don’t write any papers. It’s kind of refreshing, and it sticks with you.”

This year’s performance, “Il y a Foule Au Théâtre” will be performed on Thursday and Friday, April 7 and 8, at 8:00 pm in Scripps College’s Humanities Auditorium. English plot summaries are provided for English-only speakers. For more information, please contact Professor Eric Haskell or Professor Thierry Boucquey.