NEW PALTZ -- "Tartuffe," the classic French comedy satirizing religion and hypocrisy, was banned when Molière first presented it in 1664. More than 300 years later, the play is as relevant and provocative as ever. For two weekends, April 24-27, and May 1-4, the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz presents "Tartuffe" in McKenna Theatre.
Named for its title character, "Tartuffe" tells the tale of a lecherous, conniving beggar who, feigning piety, wheedles his way into the position of honored guest in the home of a wealthy gentleman named Orgon, and proceeds to help himself to the man's wealth, property and wife. Spellbound by religious ardor, Orgon curtly silences the bewildered members of his household who doubt the intentions of his new spiritual advisor.
Though Tartuffe positions himself as a religious and moral man, he is anything but. And Orgon, eagerly swallowing his platitudes, proves an easy mark.
Director Frank Kraat felt these themes had particular resonance today. "We are surrounded by people similar to this, who shape events to their own ends. The play is about hypocrisy," he says. "In this age of 'spin,' creating news and managing public opinion is going on everywhere in the world." For centuries, however, audiences have applauded "Tartuffe's" flat-out humor. And the current translation, written entirely in rhyming couplets by Londoner Ranjit Bolt, has been widely hailed as one of the best to date. Kraat says he stumbled upon it, quite literally, while rummaging through a bookstore. "It was sticking off the shelf. I just pulled it out, sat down on the floor to read, and was laughing out loud," Kraat says. "The play is just really, really funny."
Well known in Great Britain for transposing classic texts for modern audiences, Bolt filled his translation of "Tartuffe" with puns and double-entendre, which critics have called wittily irreverent. Earlier this year he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for the work. Charles Spencer wrote in London's Daily Telegraph last year, "Bolt's "filthy wit" would "reduce the Academie Franaise to apoplexy should they ever hear about it."
During Molière's time, the notion of a con artist and lecher hiding behind the facade of a man of God outraged the religious establishment so much that they petitioned King Louis XIV to have the production banned (though the monarch himself is said to have enjoyed it immensely). It took Molière five years and countless rewrites before "Tartuffe" was finally presented for the public. It has delighted audiences ever since.
The SUNY production runs April 24-26 and May 1-3 at 8 p.m., with matinees on April 27 and May 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 general admission, $12 seniors and students. For more information and ticket sales, call 845-257-3880.
On Friday, May 2nd, The Department of Theatre will host a Friday Night Forum. At 7pm, Vladimir Bakum, Professor Emeritus of Foreign Languages will present a lecture titled "The Church, Molière, and the King." He will be joined by Tartuffe Director and Professor Emeritus of Theatre Arts Frank Kraat. The discussion is free and open to all.
Photo to accompany this release are available on the Web at http://www.newpaltz.edu/news/images/Mvc-186f150-04-03.html
Photo caption: Michele DeSantis is Elmire and Jeffery McLain is Tartuffe.