A conversation from Paris with Oscar Wilde and Moliere
Some readers and WBEZ listeners may know that I teach theater part-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which is why I was in Paris two weeks ago. No, UIC didn’t send me (couldn’t afford to, as the State of Illinois owes the university system about $450 million), but it was Spring Break and so I sent myself. Hey, WBEZ pays me the big bucks so why not spend ‘em?
Naturally, in Paris I found myself standing before the Comedie-Francaise, the famous theater company that’s only 350 years old. It’s often called the “Maison de Moliere” since the troupe is a direct descendent of Moliere’s royally-sponsored theater company of the 1660’s. Boldly, I asked the press office if they could arrange for me to interview Moliere and they were happy to oblige.
A time was set for what proved to be a sunny and pleasant day and I arrived at the appointed hour. I regret to report that Moliere was not very forthcoming. I really only had one question for him: what are you working on now? He refused to reply, but there was eloquence nonetheless in his cold and stony silence. Well, you know Parisians are infamous for their “hauteur,” for their aloof arrogance. Moliere may be a regular pantaloon on stage, but in person he’s Parisian through-and-through.
I still had time to kill and a press deadline to meet, so I thought I might try my luck with a famous Anglo-Irish expatriate playwright whom I heard was in Paris. To my relief, Oscar Wilde was far more forthcoming. When I asked Oscar what he was working on, he said “I really don’t know, but I hear whispers all around me.”
“Well, Mr. Wilde,” I replied, “the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “That sounds familiar.”
“Do the whispers say anything in particular?” I asked.
“They are a bit muddled,” he allowed. “I hear many voices talking at once, but they seem to be urging me to write about ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ Alas, perhaps it IS time to do so.”
“Rather past time,” I said. “Then again, Noel Coward never did address the subject directly, and neither did Tennessee Williams until very late in his career.”
“Noel who?” Oscar said. “And Tennessee? Isn ‘t that part of the American frontier?”
Oscar and even Moliere allowed me to have my picture taken with them. And then I was off to call on Edith Piaf and Marcel Marceau.