TDPS presents modern take on Moliére's daring comedy 'Tartuffe'

September 18, 2018

UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) continues its 2018–19 season with Tartuffe, a daring and witty comedy that tells the story of a crafty trickster who uses religion as a guise to flatter the vulnerability of a wealthy patriarch. Initially censored following its 1664 premiere, the play is one of Molière’s most famous works and will be presented at the Zellerbach Playhouse stage on the UC Berkeley campus. Translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur, and directed by Domenique Lozano, Tartuffe runs November 9–18. Tickets are $13 to $20 and can be purchased online through the TDPS box office or at the door.

A con man disguised as a pious spiritual leader wheedles his way into the home of a gullible, affluent man in the midst of a mid-life crisis—and promptly sets the household topsy turvy. If not for the quick witted Dorine, grounded Elmire, and infinitely patient Cléante, all might be lost! Lechery, egotism, young love, deception, and delusion collide in Tartuffe, Molière’s classic work that skewers religious hypocrisy and self-inflated egotism.

Tartuffe hits the heart of present and historical events. “I think it’s a perfect play for our times; this very moment in our history,” observes Director Domenique Lozano. “Watching Tartuffe, we can start to imagine a real scenario where such an imposter and con man can take over a seemingly normal and balanced family’s life. But as we have learned in our current times, even the most respected house can be corrupted. So, this story has resonance and relevance in a very direct way.”

Tartuffe examines how power is vulnerable to manipulation by piety, hypocrisy, and gullibility. Although King Louis XIV privately enjoyed Tartuffe’s debut, he was persuaded by religious advisors to ban the play after church leaders called Molière “a devil clothed in human flesh” and the Archbishop of Paris threatened to excommunicate anyone who attended a performance. Molière’s defense of Tartuffe argued that comedy is a physical embodiment of “the unreasonable”, and so the play of reason against the irrational is the necessary subject of comedy. “I love that it is a comedy,” shares Lozano, “one that moves with lightning speed, slams characters up against each other brutally and brilliantly, and deals with a terrifying situation with humor, wit and grace.”  

Lozano embraces the challenge of working with the play’s rhyming couplets and verse: “Molière’s humor and astonishing wit in the rhyme invites us into a world where people are boldly exposed and revealed. The rhyming allows him to be brutally honest. He can say the most wicked things, or portray Tartuffe‘s avarice and underbelly so directly, but because it’s written in rhyme, we don’t turn our faces away. Rather, we laugh and actually ‘see’ it more clearly. The rhyme keeps the piece from being a dark tragedy, and in a way, gives us hope.”

Significantly, Tartuffe is presented within UC Berkeley’s deep-rooted tradition of critical inquiry, debate, and freedom of expression, and Lozano hopes that audience members might become inspired to start conversations or feel compelled to take action. She explains, “To be doing this play at Berkeley is meaningful given the University’s historical commitment to education and a diverse search for the truth. Molière was fearless in his depiction of hypocrisy and corruption. He risked everything and fought his entire career for these specific plays to have the right to be performed and seen.”