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Tyler Downey, center, Thomas Mackin, Stephanie Gomerez, Emily Mahoney and Gil Choi star in "Tartuffe [The Imposter]." The show opens April 24 and runs through May 3 in the Watters Theater.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Hypocrisy at play in ‘Tartuffe’
April 22, 2015Tweet
Tyler Downey loves playing the villain. So when he found out the Theatre Department would be staging the play “Tartuffe [The Imposter],” he made it his mission to score the title role, that of the pious fraud Tartuffe.
“I seem to enjoy being the bad guy; that’s kind of an interest of mine,” said Downey, a senior theatre major. “So this is like the epitome of doing that, and this is one of the more evil characters that are in theater.”
See Downey revel in villainy when “Tartuffe [The Impostor]” hits the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, and May 1-2, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3. Tickets are $8, students; $12, faculty/staff/alumni/seniors; and $14, public.
Directed by Tom Kremer, “Tartuffe” is one of the most famous works of the French playwright Molière. It tells the tale of the vagrant Tartuffe, who positions himself as a holy man. He convinces Orgon, a man he meets at church, that he’s the holiest man on the planet and will save his soul. Orgon brings Tartuffe to live in his home with his wife, Elmire. The household soon falls under the influence of Tartuffe, and everyone tries to prove he is a fraud, to no avail.
“He tries to take advantage of everything he can take advantage of. He’s a con man who uses religion,” Kremer said.
Kremer has performed in several of Molière’s plays, and actually played the role of Tartuffe at the Texas Shakespeare Festival. He thinks “Tartuffe” is pertinent to today’s world because it’s about extremist beliefs.
“It’s about people not budging and being very stubborn, which is a very big thing that’s going on in this country, that’s for sure,” he said.
Downey grew up going to Catholic school and was always interested in questioning and exploring other religions, so he was immediately drawn to “Tartuffe.”
“The idea of the manipulation of religion and also the extreme power that is within religion really made me so infatuated with the play in general,” Downey said.
Downey, who self-identifies as a “mooch” — like most college students, he has little money —can relate to Tartuffe.
“I feel why Tartuffe is doing this. He’s going for it all. He’s cashing in all of his chips. He’s going for that number-one spot. I feel that,” Downey said.
According to Tom Mackin, a junior majoring in comparative literature, “Tartuffe” was ahead of its time.
“It spouts all of these grand Enlightenment ideals, specifically for my character, about how reason and the clear light of reason should be what guides religion,” said Mackin, who plays Cléante, the brother-in-law of Orgon.
“Tartuffe” tells its tale of hypocrisy with a healthy dose of humor. Just ask junior theatre major Stephanie Gomerez, who was introduced to Molière’s works last semester and found them incredibly funny, especially “Tartuffe.”
“It’s funny as hell and it’s relevant,” said Gomerez, who plays the role of Elmire. “It’s stimulating to the mind because it’s not in your face.”
The show may be funny, but its language proved to be anything but a laughing matter for the cast. The play was translated into English verse – rhymed couplets – by the American poet Richard Wilbur in the mid-to-late 1960s. With each line ending in a rhyme, the actors have to avoid sounding like they are reciting a poem.
“We’ve been working with impulse words and playing with the musicality of it, pausing in places where you wouldn’t normally pause,” Gomerez said. “Knowing what you’re saying and trying to get that across instead of trying to make it sound elegant or sound like a song. Just really talking to the person.”
“It is not only a mental workout, it is a workout for your cheek and jaw muscles to articulate cleanly enough in order to get all of the meanings in,” Kremer said.
On top of being difficult to perform verbally, Tartuffe proved to be physically demanding as well.
“We’re always rehearsing in heeled shoes, which I’m certainly not used to wearing,” Mackin said. “Even just that, and navigating the staircase (a major piece of the set), and having those things being taken for granted.”
During rehearsals for the famous “table scene,” in which Orgon and Elmire get “close,” Downey nearly threw Gomerez off the table.
“I threw and I spun her, and I was holding her leg up in the air. I was frozen like it was some sort of dance pose,” Downey said.
Despite all of these challenges, the students met them “beautifully,” Kremer said.
“They’ve been terrific. They’re working hard and having fun, which is the most important thing,” he said. “As they hear me say a thousand times, it’s called a play. If it’s called a play, it might work best if you get up there and play.”