Actors Don Masks for Adaption of Voltaire’s

Photo by Alex Baran

Voltaire’s legendary French satire “Candide,” adapted and directed by Fulbright Scholar Rafael Bianciotto and Ramapo’s own Terra Vandergaw, began performances in the Sharp Theater this weekend with great style and humor. Unique to the production were the exaggerated masks worn by the characters. 

The production was put on with the help of French company Zefiro Theater, and major elements of the show were produced through the efforts of France natives, who came to Ramapo to participate in the making of “Candide,”  including masks by Alaric Chagnard and music direction by Jean-Luc Priano.

With an introduction spoken in French by Priano, the audience was immediately taken into the mind of Voltaire and the satire that characterizes the play. The show follows title character Candide (Tom Kiely) as he globetrots, escaping a variety of hardships and tragedies, while still maintaining the faux-philosophy of Professor Pangloss (Nick Walsh) that the world they live in is "the best of all possible worlds." Beginning in the Westphalian castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, Candide becomes romantically involved with baroness Cunegonde (Amber Walker), which results in his eviction from the castle and accidental enlistment in the Bulgarian army. Candide, with the help of Jacques (Jonathan Crefeld), lands in Holland, where he finds his former master poverty stricken. Professor Pangloss informs Candide that everyone from Westphalia was gruesomely murdered.

Candide then finds himself in Lisbon, where he is nearly killed in an auto-da-fe and where Pangloss is hanged. Eventually Candide stumbles upon Cunegonde, alive and well, mistress to both a Grand Inquisitor (Raechel Sontag) and a merchant (Walsh), both of whom are killed by Candide. Much of the rest of the play features Candide and his loyal companion Cacambo (Lawrence James Hickmon) traveling to and escaping from a variety of locations, chasing Cunegonde and meeting other characters with various viewpoints of the world. The naïve world view that this is the "best of all possible worlds" is challenged and lost when the characters reunite, working on a farm and suffering from terrible boredom.

The dense adventure of Candide and his cohort are told marvelously with a minimalistic set design and an in-house band that was perfectly in sync with the comedic timing of the actors. The show is delightfully humorous, and this adaptation accurately maintained the wickedly sharp satire of Voltaire’s original work. A herd of “sheep” filling the aisles signified intermission and typified the mood of the play.

Careful attention was put into the unique masks cast for the actors' faces; every actor donned one except Kiely, who played Candide. The costuming represented the bevy of countries showcased in Candide’s journey.

The philosophies and witticisms of Voltaire remain relevant, despite the fact that the work is over 200 years old. While the world has changed significantly since the 1700s, Voltaire's situational humor is still fresh and amusing.