“Tartuffe,” the story of a pious deceiver, will come to life on the stage of the Dailey Theatre beginning April 20.
The play, written by French playwright Moliere in the 1600s, has been modernized by the University of La Verne theater department into a contemporary comedy.
The play is the senior project of three students, including senior theater major and set manager Makenna Zambrano.
Zambrano said she sees the play as a dark comedy.
“I think that if you take ‘Tartuffe’ at face value and just read the story without seeing it, you would think that it’s actually a pretty serious play,” Zambrano said.
“There’s a lot of life or death things that happen, but the way Moliere writes it is pretty funny.”
Sean Dillon, associate professor of theater art and director of the production, said the play was written in an archaic style, but is still easy to understand.
“The play is poetically delivered, so you’ve got lines in rhymed couplets and 10 syllables, but the language isn’t hard,” Dillon said. “One reason I chose this play is it was time in the midst of what we do, to do a classical piece with an antiquity of language.”
Zambrano said that the way the play was written allows the actors to memorize lines easier.
“It’s meant to follow the normal rhythm of how people talk, but as far as acting in a genuine way where you have rhymed couplets and specific speech, it’s definitely a challenge,” Zambrano said.
Dillon said that although the play was written in the 1600s, it still has themes that can be applied to modern times.
The play was tweaked to include some more contemporary twists.
“We didn’t modernize the language at all and we even have a set design that’s Louis the XIV inspired with lots of columns and marble, however the costumes are modern costumes,” Dillon said.
“The point of the modern costumes was not to force the audience to think ‘This is something that is going on today,’ but to allow them to draw their own conclusions,” Dillon said.
“I believe that it has a sort of social commentary that resonates perfectly with our contemporary society. I think that you will recognize political people and themes of today, and that is why it was chosen,” he said.
The theater department began work on the play in late February.
Alumna Sara Haddadin, master carpenter, began working on the sets March 13.
Although Haddadin has been building sets since high school, the “Tartuffe” set has been a challenge.
“This is one of the largest sets that we’ve done in a really long time,” Haddadin said. “We started off with the platform that took us all of spring break to build and then there’s a lot of intricate detail and things that I have never done before.”
Haddadin said the most challenging part was having to create the many archways.
Senior theater major Wayne Keller III, who plays Tartuffe, is also doing the play as his senior project.
“Although he’s not in many scenes, the play is about him,” Zambrano said. “His character is central.”
Zambrano said the unlikely star of the show is the character Dorine, played by senior theater major Jessie Bias as part of her senior project.
“Dorine is the sassy maid,” Bias said. “Dorine may talk back a lot, but you’ll find that she truly loves this family and doesn’t want to see any harm come to them. She knows that Tartuffe spells out trouble,” she said.
To prepare for the role, Bias did research on the 16th century Italian theater style Commedia dell’arte, a form of theater that employs certain stock characters or archetypes.
“Dorine is modeled after the comic servant,” Bias said. “Knowing that helped me come up with my own reasoning for the way she acts. I took into account what people say about her, what she says about other people and what does she say about herself.”
Bias said that having a character that she relates to has made the task of playing Dorine an easier one.
“We’re both not afraid to speak our mind,” Bias said. “Dorine is bold and bright and she has a flare that nobody else has and I think, from what people tell me, I’m similar.”
For Zambrano, organizing and motivating the cast has been the biggest challenge.
“The hardest part of any play is that they require so many people to come together for one goal,” Zambrano said.
To accommodate class schedules, scenes are not rehearsed all at one time or in order.
However, every scene is rehearsed at least three times, Zambrano said.
“Everyone has personal problems, classes and so many things going on in their lives,” Zambrano said.
“But it’s really great to see everyone lighting up on the stage at the end.”
“Tartuffe” was first performed in 1664 at the palace of Versailles for King Louis XIV. At the time, the play sparked controversy as it offended members of the French Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Paris threatened to excommunicate anyone who watched, read, performed or participated in the play in any way.
In modern times, the play is considered a theater classic.
“I’ve talked to so many people that aren’t familiar with what ‘Tartuffe’ is because it’s an old play, but it’s a classic,” Bias said. “I think everybody should have a chance to see the classics, especially this one because we have a modern twist on it. It should be more interesting and engaging to come see.”
Dillon said that he hopes the audience recognizes the play’s humor.
“Here’s something that most people wouldn’t expect about a play written in that age: it’s funny,” Dillon said. “It’s silly sometimes, it’s naughty sometimes and I chose it because I think the audience will really enjoy it.”
“Tartuffe” is showing in the Dailey Theatre April 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and April 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or at tartuffeulv.eventbrite.com.
The suggested donation is $8 for students, $12 for staff and seniors and $15 for general admission.
“We ask that you pay what you can,” Zambrano said. “Our belief here is that we’ll never turn someone away who wants to see theater and be a part of it, of course they’re welcome. But we are a theater that works primarily on donations.”
Natasha Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.