By John Farrell
There is nothing new in the world, or so it seems. The stories of pious men, politicians and bankers who manage to fool almost everyone while they gleefully rob and letch their way through life seem common to the modern world. They were nothing new three hundred and more years ago, either, just a lot funnier.
Case in point: Moliere’s Tartuffe, the story of a pious beggar taken into the home of a French nobleman who then takes in that nobleman and almost manages to destroy him through false piety that the noble can’t recognize, but which Moliere makes plain right from the start, when Tartuffe enters the house of Orgon, the nobleman in question, and very carefully manages to cop a feel of the lively maid’s pert breast without batting an eye.
Tartuffe is currently being presented at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Mainstage Theatre, and in a wonderful modern translation by Richard Wilbur which lets the story unfold in remarkable English verse you will soon understand why Moliere is the king of comedy, with only Shakespeare (writing fifty years before) giving him any competition.
Tartuffe, played with oily serenity by Tom Juarez, is a pious mendicant, dressed in chaste black and white, praying all the while, in the midst of a French family dressed in the bright colors of the French nobility, circa 1640. He has convinced Orgon (Cort Huckabone) and Orgon’s mother Madame Pernelle (the delightfully crotchety Teri Ciranna) that he is what he says he is: a pious man depending on charity. Everyone else in the family, from the felt-up maid Dorine ( Loren McJannett-Taylor) to his lively wife Elmire (Brenda Kenworthy) knows better. But it takes an act of the King to finally straighten things out in the Orgon household, only after much hilarious scheming and hiding under tables.
Director Phyllis B. Gitlin works with a set designed by Greg Fritsche that uses the whole of the Playhouse’s long thrust stage to great effect, putting a small gazebo-like garden hut in the middle, and moving the action around the house. She also makes sure that the lively dialogue is clearly understood.
Three hundred years ago Moliere’s Tartuffe was suppressed by the religious leaders of the time, though Louis XIV liked the play and it was eventually a hit. There are still people who would like to suppress it’s story of an impostor hiding his licentiousness in piety. But then, they don’t go to the theater.
Tickets are $24, seniors $21, students $14. Friday, April 13 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14 at 8 p.m., Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 5.
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theater
Location: 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach
Details: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org