In the awkwardly halcyon days of high school, I played in Molière’s most famous play, Tartuffe. I performed as Orgon, the credulous near-cuckold, a fool duped by the falsely religious Tartuffe, who loved his seemingly pious friend while the clever fiend wrecked his family and stole his fortune, realizing almost too late his villainy. When Tartuffe opens his mouth, Orgon opens his mouth in imitation.
I still have a lot of sympathy for the fool—maybe a sympathy I developed in high school, playing the unfortunate Orgon. The Hammer Museum has a small painting in its contemporary collection (a repository by Honoré Daumier that I love, Two Actors (Comedy Scene), 1870-1873, a painting that no doubt inspired many later Impressionist paintings.
Daumier admired Molière. So, maybe the figures in the painting are Orgon and Tartuffe. Yet, the figures in dim light call out to me for a new script. In the interest of starting to build something new for these two actors captured mid-scene by Daumier, their context lost to time, I have organized a list of my observations of this painting by Daumier.
I like the figures, and the way it was painted. I think it matters just to observe something sometimes, to focus, especially during a heatwave
... brown, blue, yellow, black, white, red...
A great gold frame juts out in front of this small, fecund picture, a partially-illuminated space. Background deep brown at left, to almost black at right. (At the Hammer Museum the background is a deep and mysterious, squint-inducing, wonderfully-dense brown-black. In the web image I have, the background looks more green.)
Beards painted like flesh beards. Brown jacket. Dim footlights. Hat on the right, a tri-corner, lumpy, silly, pushed way back flobby, floppy hat. He, left: celebrating, chest proud with travel plans, perhaps libidinous, or ponderous, a monstrosity even, a putrid folly, or a boss, or just illustrating a joke in a really big way. He, right: meticulous, careful servant, holes at the knees perhaps, watching, somehow malleable, supple, duped, a younger brother, underling, or suffering an insult, fear, or ultimately just the comedy straight man, standing at attention.
Lit-up, fleshy eyebrows. Men who elongate their necks... On the left: his eye is a hole, his nose is a fine point. On the left: white hair brought to a point on top, or a similar white wig. Open mouths. Pointy nose at left, pudgey underside of smooshed nose at right. The figure at left wears a yellow jacket of fantastic, quick, flamboyant brushstrokes, a real ego jacket. The figure on the right, slightly in front, faces front, hands at hips, talks over his right shoulder to the figure at right, whose arms are pressed to his sides. The skin immediately under the first skin of the cheek.
They are actors.
They are considering the repercussions and doing breathing exercises. They are hatching a plan, maybe learning a song. They are poor, actually. They are trying to change the terms of the conversation.
They are trying to look sober, for comedians.
- Marcus Civin
(Image: Honoré Daumier, Two Actors (Comedy Scene), 1870-1873, Oil on panel. The Armand Hammer Daumier and Contemporaries Collection. Gift of the Armand Hammer Foundation.)