Puffed-Up, Hyper-Pious Hypocrite

Puffed-Up, Hyper-Pious Hypocrite

Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ sounds strangely relevant

When French playwright Molière wrote his comedy “Tartuffe” in 1664, it was promptly censored by the ruler of France, King Louis XIV. Apparently the title character hit a little too close to home for elite Parisian society: Tartuffe is a puffed-up, manipulative, hyper-pious hypocrite. Much of the comedy of the piece comes when the audience — who are wise to Tartuffe’s true nature — watch him take the foolish and vain around him for all that they’re worth.

“I certainly think that the element of the con man is one that will never go away,” says Steven Marzolf, who is directing the play for the University of Arkansas Theatre this month, on how the play has managed to stay relevant for nearly 400 years. “The audience likes to watch someone get duped — it’s kind of like when you’re on the highway, and you see a major accident and slow down, because you can’t take your eyes off of it. And then, on the flip side, there’s this family that is watching the patriarch get conned, and they’re trying to get him to open his eyes, so it’s this sense of a family trying to stay together through this really awful time. It reminds me of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ — that play can be a lot of people yelling at each other, but not if it’s done well. The common denominator is love: They want the best for each other. So those elements keep this play relevant to a modern audience.”

Marzolf has found two other ways to boost the relevance of this classic play. The first is that he’s set it in modern day Los Angeles.

“The costume design feels very much ‘Schitt’s Creek’ meets ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ meets ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’,” he says with a laugh. “This is a very wealthy family with very extravagant, expensive attire. Most of the audience that will come to this show are our [Fine Arts] Theater Participation students — around 65 percent of the audience are students, and the rest the general public. So with these classical plays, I want the younger person to see it and have some sort of relevancy when they do.”

Marzolf’s second change? He’s made Tartuffe a Scientologist.

“I chose that because of the Leah Remini documentary series [on Scientology] and another documentary recently out, so it’s really in our consciousness now,” says Marzolf. “I’ve done a lot of the research on Scientology and the propaganda and manipulative tactics they use.” He points out that there are even direct lines from the script that lend themselves to the link to Scientology: “There is a science, lately formulated/Whereby one’s conscience may be liberated/ And any wrongful act you care to mention/May be redeemed by purity of intention.”

That excerpt, by the way, is an example of the rhyming iambic pentameter Richard Wilbur’s 1963 translation is written in, which can be difficult for an actor to master.

“It’s an extreme challenge for a professional, much less an actor in training,” says Marzolf. “Tartuffe” is the show specially chosen for the UA Department of Theatre M.F.A. students, who are new to the program this year. “It’s like doing Shakespeare, so it’s vital for their training — a lot of them are already talking about possibly doing Shakespeare festivals in the summer, so that alone is worth the experience.

“I also think what’s cool about this year is that we’re doing ‘Tartuffe’ in the fall and then we’re doing a new play festival at the end of the year. I love the idea of actors getting to work in both something that has been in the canon for hundreds of years and something brand new — each of them can inform the other and can be incredibly helpful in understanding yourself as an actor.”




WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-26; 2 p.m. Oct. 26-27

WHERE — University Theatre at the Global Campus Theater, 2 E. Center St., Fayetteville

COST — $3-$20

INFO — 575-4752

Categories: Theater