Sitting on a bench in Prospect Park recently as flocks of maskless Brooklynites passed by, Lucie Tiberghien reflected on the long, strange journey toward the first full production of Molière in the Park, the company she conceived to bring free theater with a diverse cast and crew to her home borough.
This weekend, after months of delays that radically reshaped her plans, she is on her way to fulfilling that dream, with a staged and costumed reading of “Tartuffe.”
Raised in France and Switzerland, Tiberghien has lived in New York since 1995, directing plays regionally and Off Broadway. Walking through the park a few years ago, she wondered to herself, “Why isn’t there a company dedicated to putting on theater here?”
She created a nonprofit in 2018 to fill that role. Since Shakespeare already has his own park gig, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, and since she is French, she chose Molière, whose works she has long admired. “I had been trying to be hired to direct Molière for years,” she said.
And since the plays mix comedy and drama, she added, “it’s great for an outdoor spring theater, because it can be subversive and biting but also festive and joyous.”
Garth Belcon, an executive producer of Molière in the Park, offered another reason: “His plays place their thumb ever so lovingly into the eyes of the establishment and glitterati of his day.”
“Tartuffe,” which revolves around a supposed holy man whose ardent supporters hang on his every idea even when they fly in the face of evidence, certainly fits that bill. With the company’s mission stressing inclusivity, this “Tartuffe” will feature Kate Rigg, a multiracial, multicultural woman, as the title character.
“I appreciate that it wasn’t such a big deal for Lucie,” Rigg said. “And also that she didn’t want me because I was Asian or a woman, but because she wanted a funny person in that role.”
She contacted Itai Shoffman, who runs the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Prospect Park — home to a skating rink in winter and a water park in summer — and he said yes to producing plays there. Belcon agreed to be the executive producer, and Jerome Barth, who had helped run Bryant Park and the High Line, joined her board of directors.
“So everybody said yes, but I had no money,” recalled Tiberghien, who is married to the playwright Stephen Belber. “I had to learn to write a grant proposal on the fly.”
With foundation support from the likes of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the de Groot Foundation, Molière in the Park kicked off with readings of “The Misanthrope” at LeFrak Center in the spring of 2019 and “The School for Wives” at the park’s Picnic House that fall. For 2020, the company prepped a full production of “The Misanthrope,” to be directed by Tiberghien, followed by a reading of another play.
Then, of course, came the pandemic.
“We hadn’t spent anything yet so we didn’t lose money,” Tiberghien said. “We didn’t have a huge staff so we were not forced to pay people, or to lay them off.”
Like most of the theater world, Molière in the Park migrated to Zoom. With the lower cost of online productions, the company put on three shows in fairly quick succession — “The Misanthrope,” “Tartuffe” and “School for Wives” — attracting such notable talent as Tonya Pinkins, Samira Wiley, Stew and Raúl Esparza.