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ReDiscovery at STC: The Life of an Unknown Play

Jean-François Regnard

At the turn of the 18th century, Jean-François Regnard appeared to be Molière’s heir apparent. His first full-length comedy, Le Joueur (The Gamester) was played at the Comédie Française (Molière’s theatre) every year until his death, and he had just debuted his masterpiece, Le Légataire Universel (The Heir Apparent). More than 300 years later, Regnard’s name is virtually unknown in the American theatre. Lost over three centuries of political upheavals and changing tastes, his work is rarely translated and even more rarely produced. But thanks to the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ReDiscovery Series, the rambunctious characters, knockabout plots and expertly rhymed couplets of Regnard’s play are being unleashed on the stage once again. 

With our ReDiscovery Series, the Shakespeare Theatre Company is committed to preserving and reinvigorating the classical repertoire through the investigation of little known plays and playwrights. Our reading series allows artist and audiences to explore plays that have been forgotten for decades, sometimes centuries. Over the past ten years, we have read more than 20 plays as part of the Series. In 2009–2010, David Ives’ adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s The Liar marked the first completed cycle of a play’s progress from staged reading to commissioned script, going through a series of workshops to a fully realized production—a process that took approximately three years. The Liar was such a success that it led directly, as you can see in the timeline, to this season’s production of The Heir Apparent

 Timeline of The Heir Apparent’s Evolution 

1655 Jean-François Regnard is born February 7 in Paris. His well-to-do family of merchants assures him a good education and later, a substantial inheritance. 

1673 Molière dies, after performing in La Malade Imaginaire. Regnard is 18. 

1696 Le Joueur, Regnard’s first full-length verse play, restores “laughing comedy” (“comique absolu”) to the Comédie Française for the first time since the death of Molière. 

1708 Regnard’s Le Légataire Universel premieres at the Comédie Française. 

1709 Regnard dies unexpectedly at his country estate. According to competing accounts, he may have committed suicide, tried to end his severe indigestion with drugs meant for a horse, or dropped dead of a stroke after drinking a glass of ice water when he was overheated. 

1769 Thomas King writes Wit’s Last Stake for Drury Lane Theatre in London—the first adaptation of Le Légataire Universel. Years later, actor-manager Charles Macklin mounts another version entitled Will and No Will

1789 The French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille. 

1923 Richard Aldington, an English writer and editor, publishes a literal translation of Le Légataire Universel, The Residuary Legatee, in a volume of four French comedies. 

2008 ReDiscovery reading at the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Jean-François Regnard’s The Gamester, adapted by Freyda Thomas. 

2010 April 6. ReDiscovery production of Pierre Corneille’s The Liar, adapted and translated by David Ives, premieres at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. 

2010 July 27. Michael Kahn sends David Ives The Residuary Legatee by Richard Aldington. David Ives expresses his interest in “transladapting” the play. 

2011 January 10. David Ives sends Michael Kahn his first draft, entitled The Heir Apparent

2011 March 31. The first reading of The Heir Apparent occurs in New York. 

2011 June 15. The STC Artistic staff holds auditions for The Heir Apparent

2011 June 22. After several drafts, the second New York reading of The Heir Apparent occurs, this time with the final cast. 

2011 August 1. First rehearsal of The Heir Apparent in Washington, D.C. 

2011 September 12. Opening night, 303 years later.

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