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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 10:54 pm | Fair and Breezy 48º


Gerald Carpenter: Hypocrisy Springs Eternal in SBCC’s ‘Tartuffe’

Molière gets a modern makeover with some help from Constance Congdon and a talented team of student performers

The SBCC Theatre Arts Department will present a student showcase production of Tartuffe, a satire by Molière (1622-1673), beginning Wednesday and running through March 19 in the Interim Theatre on the West Campus.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (universally known by his stage name Moliere), the funniest Frenchman of the 17th century.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (universally known by his stage name Molière), the funniest Frenchman of the 17th century. (Nicolas Mignard painting)

Adapted — which is not to say translated — by Constance Congdon (whose R. Michael Gros, with sets by Charles Thomson Garey, costumes by Rachel Myers, lighting by Patricia L. Frank, and stars Matthew Andreas, Sara Beroff, Kaila Marie Carlstrom, Annie Diehl, Flavia Giuzio, Grant Harvey, Ophir Katz, Ashley Saress Lemmex, Richard Lonsbury, Tim Mahoney, Stuart Orenstein, James Stenger and Jerry Vassallo. (As you can probably tell from the alphabetical order, these are talented student actors, not Equity pros.)

The eponymous Tartuffe is a religious hypocrite — what the French call un faux dévot — who has smarmed his way into the household of the wealthy bourgeois Orgon, whose own religious sloth makes him vulnerable. Orgon’s family and friends can all see through Tartuffe’s pose; only Orgon himself is blind to Tartuffe’s double-dealing — a blindness that very nearly costs him his house and money (this being a comedy, it is only “very nearly”).

Since Thomas Hobbes, in 1628, produced the first English translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, virtually every succeeding generation has found it necessary to translate it anew, and to read it in terms of the events and politics of their own times. Something of the sort must also be true of the plays of Molière, for no matter how much middle-class society has evolved since the 17th century, we can still watch his plays as if looking into a mirror, wincing at the often unflattering images of ourselves we see reflected there.

To be sure, not all his plays are equally reflective and some — the ones that come down to us only as names in his bibliography — no longer reflect anything recognizable. But the social-climber of The Bourgeois Gentleman, the hypochondriac of The Imaginary Invalid, the bitter grouch of The Misanthrope — these people are with us still, poisoning the happiness of those around them.

As for Tartuffe himself, he comes and goes. In the United States of the present day, he is riding high. In our country, we associate religious hypocrites with Protestants, holier-than-thou scowlers and sanctimonious busibodies, but Molière was mainly satirizing the Roman Catholic variety, as centuries before, the incomparable mullah, Nasreddin, had made sport of the hypocrites of Islam. Orgon is a believer, but he is not nearly as strong a churchman as his conscience demands, and so he feels guilty. This makes him an easy mark for Tartuffe, whose greed and ambition are not encumbered by any conscience at all, Christian or otherwise. As the late Kurt Vonnegut observed. And so it goes.

Tartuffe plays at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The layout of the Interim Theatre precludes late seating. Ticket prices are $15 general, $12 seniors and $8 students, and are available at the Interim Theatre Box Office, or by calling 805.965.5935. The box office is open 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and one hour before each performance. Parking is free and convenient to the theater.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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