Madame de Pompadour was hauntingly beautiful, artistically gifted and politically adept. She was the "Mistress of France," lover to Louis XV and the power behind the throne for 20 years during the 18th century — a patron of the sensual Rococo style of art and of such philosophers as Voltaire and Montesquieu during the Age of Enlightenment.
Local playwright Molly Tinsley's play, "Pompadour," explores the life and times of this fascinating character, and Ashland Contemporary Theatre will premiere the new piece — with performances set for 8 p.m. Saturdays, Jan. 19 and 26 and Feb. 2, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 20 and 27 and Feb. 3, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland.
Written as a one-woman show, "Pompadour" is told as a memoir by the dying courtesan. The play stars ACT's Producing Artistic Director Jeannine Grizzard and is directed by Peggy Rubin, formerly of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, Jan. 19 and 26 and Feb. 2, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 20 and 27 and Feb. 3
Where: Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland
Tickets: $15, $12 for students and seniors
Call: 541-646-2971 or see www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org
"We have fashioned this as a play-within-a-play," Grizzard says. "Pompadour imagines the scenes onstage, events in her early life and her lasting love affair with the king as well as her political and artistic achievements."
Madame de Pompadour was a bourgeois commoner born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson. When her father, an estate steward, fled France amid financial scandal, she was adopted by the man who may have been her biological father, a rich tax collector for the king. Because a fortuneteller predicted she would "reign over the heart of a king," her mother nicknamed her "Reinette" (or "Little Queen"), and she was educated in an Ursuline convent and subsequently privately tutored.
She became an accomplished singer and actress and even attended the Club de l'Entresol, Paris' foremost political discussion group. There she met author and philosopher Voltaire, who became her artistic and political adviser. When she was 19, her guardian married her off — with a large dowry — to his socially ambitious nephew. Soon after, she formed her own salon of philosophers and intellectual aristocrats. She was introduced to Louis XV and became his publicly proclaimed "official mistress" — a recognition never before bestowed on a commoner. She was given her own noble title and estates, and her influence over the king was absolute.
Tinsley was inspired to write "Pompadour" in 2009 after visiting an exhibit titled "French Painting in the Age of Madame Pompadour" at the Portland Art Museum.
"Along with the sensuality, I was struck that the subjects of all the portraits seem to be holding secrets," Tinsley says. "I tried to turn history inside out, to understand the people beneath the lavish costumes."
Grizzard read an early draft of Tinsley's play and realized the dramatic possibilities of a one-woman show about Pompadour. Peggy Rubin was brought on board as director in October, and the three started collaborating on the play's structure.
"We didn't want this to be a docudrama with chronological scenes from Pompadour's life," Tinsley says. "We were interested in portraying an emotional reality."
Grizzard is a stickler for the play's historical accuracy. She's provided much of the furniture, stage props and costumes from her personal collection. She also called on assistance from OSF. Costumes by Karen Douglas are as authentic to the period as possible.
Tinsley's plays have been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Oregon Book Awards, the Pushcart Prize and Maryland State Arts Council, among others. She's a former professor of English at the United States Naval Academy and its first professor emeritus.
Tickets for "Pompadour" cost $15, $12 for seniors and students, and may be purchased at Paddington Station in Ashland, Grocery Outlet in Medford, www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org or by calling 541-646-2971.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.