University Theatre opens season with French satire 'Tartuffe'

Actors rehearsing a scene

University Theatre kicks off its 2019-20 season Nov. 8 with a contemporary verse adaptation of Molière’s classic French comedy “Tartuffe.”

The play focuses on nomadic charlatan and con artist Tartuffe, who impresses Orgon with his devout moral and religious character, convincing him to take him into his home. Soon, Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle, have become so enamored with Tartuffe they seek his counsel before making any decision. Orgon’s family members, who see through Tartuffe’s ruse, attempt to expose the imposter for the hypocritical scoundrel that he is.

Poking fun at the irrational devotion to a sanctimonious villain and the gullibility of his followers may come across as an interesting choice for the times. And according to director Tricia Rodley, choosing this particular play at this particular time was deliberate.

“With this production, we are questioning hypocrisy in our cultural moment,” she said. “We’re challenging our ideas about image in a media-driven age by asking: ‘Are we all imposters?’  I tend to think Molière was asking the same question — not so subtly, really.”

The play’s adaptation by Constance Congdon, one of the few available by a woman and a comedic playwright, is a modern-day rendering that employs current fashion and design elements to retell the 17th-century tale.

First performed in 1664, Molière’s “Tartuffe” was almost immediately censored by King Louis XIV after influential church leaders, who considered the play an attack on religion, feared the play might encourage undesirable questions about their true motives.

By setting it in a present-day time frame, Rodley hopes audiences will make the historical connections between today’s image-as-status theme and the ban over religious content in Molière’s time.

“Our Tartuffe is a wannabe media influencer trading on spirituality,” she said.

Overall, the production promises to not only entertain but also ask the audience to contemplate questions on the appearance of moral authority, reason versus emotion, and hypocrisy.

“At UO, we hope for an opportunity to engage scholarly interests as well, from language learners to literature lovers to cultural critics,” Rodley said. “The play is well-known as a comedic satire, and it was written by one of France’s famous authors. We hope people will come expecting a classic and leave surprised by what they find: an extremely relevant story that reintroduces audiences to Molière’s work.”

Opening at the UO’s Robinson Theatre on Nov. 8, the play will also be performed Nov. 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. Admission is free for UO students with ID, $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and non-UO students.

—By Sharleen Nelson, University Communications