Moliére's comedic take on misplaced trust gets a Prospect Theater Project treatment in 'Tartuffe'Molière's comedy "Tartuffe" has been performed for nearly 400 years because of its timeless story about a religious hypocrite who wins a man's trust and then tries to swindle him and his family out of everything.
Prospect Theater Project is presenting the play at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto next weekend as a last-minute replacement for the première of Modesto playwright Ken White's "My Father's House," which fell through.
Prospect previously staged sold-out runs of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Gallo Center, breaking attendance records at the venue.
The theater company is using MilesMalleson's free adaptation with the play set in 1950s New Orleans.
Prospect Artistic Director Jack Souza said the show is thematically not that far off from the theme of "My Father's House," which was about a Modesto connection to the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, in which more than 900 followers of religious leader Jim Jones died in a mass suicide. Both deal with a religious charlatan.
"This is about human hypocrisy the separation between what we try to appear to be and what we are," Souza said.
"Tartuffe" seems particularly pertinent now that the presidential election is coming up, Souza said. "It's about substance versus appearance, and we will be up to our elbows in that come November. Molière is asking us to cast a critical eye on people in positions of trust."
Molière is considered the French Shakespeare, and this play, written in 1664, is one of his greatest works.
"Tartuffe" is subtitled "the imposter." In the play, the title character poses as a priest to get close to Orgon. Soon, Orgon won't do anything without first consulting Tartuffe. Some of his family members see through Tartuffe, but Orgon won't believe anything they say.
Souza said his cast has seen parallels with 1980s religious scandals involving televangelists Jim Bakker and Oral Roberts. But he emphasizes that the play is not skewering Christianity, just hypocrites.
"Really, where we end up in the play is the assertion and confirmation of real Christian values, beginning with the importance of family," Souza said. "Orgon wouldn't have been in the trouble he was in if he had listened to and trusted his family."
The cast stars Christopher Volkerts as the title character and David Barbaree as Orgon. Both are hilarious, Souza said. "I look forward to going to rehearsals because these guys are killing me," he said.
Some of the other performers include Bonnie DeChant as Orgon's wife, Karen Olsen as Orgon's mother and Colton Dennis as Orgon's brother-in-law. Souza also is excited about the Prospect debut of his 15-year-old daughter, Molly, as an ingenue. The proud father said she was the last person to audition on the last day and he didn't even know she was going to show up.
"She's doing really, really well," he said. "I love watching her and I think audiences will, too. She's glowing."
Though "Tartuffe" may be unfamiliar to many theatergoers, Souza said he hopes they will give it a try. "It's entertaining. It's raucously funny."
Prospect Theater Project's "Tartuffe"
WHEN: 8 p.m. July 27-28 and 2 p.m. July 29
WHERE: Foster Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100