by Paul Hansen 27 June, 2020
As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way. Many theater companies, including Molière in the Park, are circumventing the current virus pandemic by presenting their productions electronically and maintaining social distancing while continuing to further the arts.
Kaliswa Brewster, who has been featured in such TV series as Time after Time and Billions, will be appearing in Molière in the Park’s live stream production of Tartuffe. In this social satire by the classic French playwright, Brewster performs the role of Mariane whose father demands that she marry Tartuffe, a dubious character who ingratiates himself into Mariane’s family by falsely posing as a religious devotee. The translation in this production of the original French text is by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Wilbur.
Performances will be live-streamed this Saturday, June 27 at 2 PM EST and 7 PM EST. Viewing of the production is free. For more information and to reserve access to the performances log on to https://www.moliereinthepark.org/.
For those who miss the performances on June 27, a recording of the stream will be available on Molière in the Park’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/moliereinthepark) through Wednesday, July 1, 2:00 PM EST. UPDATE: Due to popular demand, the recording of the live stream will be available on YouTube through July 12.
Q: How did you become involved in this production of Tartuffe and is there anything in particular that appeals to you about the character Mariane you perform?
Kaliswa Brewster: I’ve been working with Lucie Tiberghien, our amazing director for about 6 years ever since I was cast in one of her shows at a contemporary theater festival in 2014. She is BRILLIANT as a director of new plays. So, it was fun to learn that classical theater, and particularly Molière is one of her passions. She invited me to be in the zoom production of The Misanthrope and I was just honored to be among her collection of amazingly talented actors. It’s actually humbling. I’m like “What’?’ “I get to play with these people?’ “And from inside my own home?!!!” It’s a treat.
Mariane’s journey is unfortunately very familiar to me and probably to a lot of girls and women. She comes from a good family, she plays by the rules, she doesn’t cause waves, thinking that these things make her “good” and that being “good” will earn her a “good” and beautiful life. The rug gets pulled out from under her when her father decides that he knows what is best for her and insists on marrying her off to Tartuffe (who, let’s face it, is pretty gross) instead of to her true love Valere as had been previously decided. The question for me with Mariane is how do you find your own voice when you never knew you had to have one? How do you advocate for yourself and for what is just when you have always gone with the flow and let things happen for you?
Q: Do you think that the play speaks to contemporary issues?
Brewster: I really love how current this play feels in terms of what we are seeing in the world right now as far as religion, politics, and social justice movements. To me, Tartuffe’s fake religious piety echoes that of the right-wing to a tee. Of course, there’s Trump’s Bible stunt—using it as a prop to signal his virtue when we all know he’s not truly a man of faith.
But even beyond Tartuffe himself, I love how the play really shows how easy it is to only see what you want to see. Madame Pernelle (my grandmother) and Orgon (my father) cannot fathom that Tartuffe is disingenuous and manipulative. They see what they want to see. I’m a little bit obsessed with social media and the bubbles that it puts us in. Despite clear evidence of everything from the safety and importance of vaccines to systemic racism- we collectively only see what we want to see. It’s very dangerous to not be critical about what is happening around you. That’s why we are where we are right now.
Q: Was there anything that occurred during the rehearsal process that was particularly memorable or unexpected?
Brewster: Raul Esparza made me spit out my food while I was watching him do a scene yesterday. He literally bares his ass. You’ll have to watch to see what I mean.
Q: How do you look back on your work on such TV shows as Time after Time and Billions?
Brewster: I’ve been so lucky to have stints on shows that have felt like family. Billions was my first TV home and I remember shooting the pilot in the middle of a blizzard and making small talk and chit-chatting while FREEZING with Kelly Aucoin who plays Dollar Bill (now a series regular). So many actors on Billions are theater actors. I learned so much from them about what it means to work on both mediums.
Q: Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell audiences about Tartuffe?
Brewster: I know it may seem strange to put on a play by an old, dead, white, French playwright in this time that we are in right now—but you’d be surprised how RELEVANT it is. Even without changing a word. Moliere had a lot of integrity in his critiques of the upper class and of religion during his time. We’d be wise to find the parallels in our worlds. Also: the way that this show is diversely cast highlights the power dynamics in a whole new way.
Q: Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?
Brewster: Well, COVID has stalled a lot of things. But I’ve been lucky to have had quite a bit of voiceover work during this time. It’s nice to have different mediums to play in as an actor- especially in uncertain times like this. The feature PAINT is my next viewable upcoming project. It’s a film by Michael Walker that I shot last summer. The film deals with what it is to be a young artist in this world- what has value as art and what is BS. I’m really proud to have been a part of that.
On the producing end, I produced a project called Juneteenth: Get Us Free with Charles Randolph Wright who is a mentor and friend of mine. Jenifer Lewis, BeBe Winans, Nicole Ari Parker (who I know from Time After Time), Kelly Aucoin (Billions), and so many more amazing folks lent us their talent for a night celebrating 400 years of Resistance, Resilience, Healing, and Joy. It was initially a fundraiser for my church Middle Collegiate Church (which is inclusive and justice-oriented). But so many people tuned in that we are showing it again on July 2nd which commemorates the passing of the civil right act in 1964.