Tartuffe at DeSales

Last night, I attended the audio-described performance of Tartuffe at DeSales University last night. The teenager and my blind friend, Nancy, accompanied me.

Act I Productions always does a fantastic job and at this point, I know the staff almost as well as Nancy. (I wrote more about this yesterday, Tartuffe tonight.)

I was technically an English Literature and Language major in college for my first bachelors degree, but probably three-quarters of my degree was actually theatre classes as “Doc” Jack Ramsey was my favorite professor and I was active in the theatre company. I was also technically a French minor, but I was only one class shy of a double major. About a decade after I graduated, I did take an additional French class at my alma mater (Moravian College) and several more at Lafayette College when I earned my second bachelors in International Affairs.

That’s a long-winded way to say I’m a huge nerd who has studied Moliere.

DeSales University has a great theatre department offering majors in various forms of performing arts, so their shows are always top notch.

They offer one performance of every major production as an audio described show for the visually impaired. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a great way to include everyone in theatre.

I also provided my companions with a mini-lesson in farce versus comedy, where farce is quicker paced, has more characters entering and exit, and includes more physical humor than mere comedy.

Additionally we discussed Moliere and 17th Century Drama in general. This particular play is almost 400-years-old. It tackles heavy themes, philosophizing about religion and God (or perhaps religion versus pure spiritual intentions), gullibility, and how to change someone’s mind when they can’t see the truth.

Moliere is only slightly more modern than Shakespeare and, and this is totally my opinion, I find the French drama more accessible, funnier and more sexually-charged than Shakespeare’s canon.

The basic premise, and one that angered the Roman Catholic Church, is that a wealthy man invites a beggar into his home. The beggar, Tartuffe, has demonstrated piety that has impressed the master of the house. Tartuffe then tries to win over the master’s goods and family, and almost succeeds. The family would have been left in ruins, if not for a convenient intervention of the king, which of course, was Moliere’s way of keeping in the good graces of the crown.

The production at DeSales included a brilliant set, the paint hues of the set walls shifted colors based at the lighting. They created the illusion of a huge estate house on a small stage with an amazing display of perspective. They designed a set with six doors, about twelve stairs and three levels in a comparatively small space.

I only noticed maybe two line mix-ups. Acting was solid. I’m starting to recognize some of the actors. I think the daughter and the stepmother might have been my favorite.

I thoroughly liked the translation. It maintained much of the original rhyme without sounding forced in English. And some of the word choice was very rich. I very much enjoyed the vocabulary.

The costumes deliberately code the characters. The daughter and her suitor, as young and naive lovers, wear pink and pale blue. The stepmother wears an elaborate gown of pale blue and a light turquoise. The father wears various shades of blue and purple, but the hot-headed son wears vivid orange.

The religious themes, and the theme of being suckered in and acting stupid, still hold true today. I feel like the American political climate also seems like a “Tartuffe” story.

To purchase tickets: DeSales Calendar: Tartuffe. Show runs next weekend as well.

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