French Neoclassical Theatre on Stage
Pierre Corneille was the greatest of French dramatists writing in the seventeenth century. As a renegade author, he railed against the restrictive rules of the neoclassical age and crafted works of spiritual power that transcended the mere rules of the dramatic trade. Of his major works, Polyeucte (1643) remains the most endearing and powerful.
The play tells the story of Pauline, the daughter of a Roman Governor, and her husband Polyeucte, an Armenian nobleman who has recently converted to the Christian faith. In a heated fervor, Polyeucte desecrates the Roman Temple, tearing down the statues of the gods. The law demands Polyeucte’s repentance or death, but as a zealous young Christian, Polyeucte is resolute and refuses to repent his deeds, preferring death instead. Without a confession, the governor remains obligated to execute his daughter’s new husband for his crimes against the gods of Rome. Matters are complicated when Pauline’s first love, now a decorated war hero, arrives in the province to win her love once more. Pauline stands tall as she navigates the political and social currents of her discontent. She must rebuff her new suitor, convince her husband to recant his new faith, and dispute the finer points of Roman law with her father, who feels duty-bound to execute Polyeucte for his crimes. When all is said and done, these events lead to a visitation of grace upon their household and the land of Armenia.
The Stage Production
A team of talented actors and designers mounted a powerful production of this French classic in November 2008 at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. The show was directed by Professor Lahaie, while the sets were designed by Prof. Christopher Keene. Costumes were designed by Erin Mann. The cast included the following:
- Matthew Fraiser as Polyeucte
- Heather Bartlett as Pauline
- Ron Houser as Nearchus
- Caleb Moore as Severus
- Brian McGill as Feflix
- Nicole Burton as Stratonice