17th century “Tartuffe” still making audiences laugh today

By Amelia Gentile

Some works of prose and poetry are simply timeless; “Tartuffe” fits that bill, as it continues to resonate with audiences today.

The production, staged this past week by the USD graduate theater program is considered the most famous theatrical comedy by 17th century French playwright Molière.

Since the first performance in 1664 at the Palace of Versailles for the Sun King himself, Louis XIV, the performances have reduced audiences to relentless fits of laughter. It is a social commentary on many of the issues that faced the aristocracy in Molière’s time, and yet it continues to affect audiences today.

Each character in the family reflects a hyperbolic personality type, which comes together in satisfying spats of witty banter, passionate love and incredible absurdity. There is the chambermaid Dorine whose wanton tongue constantly oversteps her boundaries as a servant to the house. But she ironically is the one who has the best sense of reason and clearest perspective throughout the play.

Rather than approach issues directly, she provides an enormous amount of comic relief to the audience by teasing the other characters as they struggle through trivial issues.

“No, no, a daughter must obey her father, though he should want to make her wed a monkey, ” Dorine said to Mariane the daughter of the house.

The daughter’s duty is to marry a suitor of her father Orgon’s choice.

The rest of the characters prove just as relatable. There are the two juvenile lovers who are too stubborn to address the real issues at hand, and instead get caught up in an argument over he said/she said until Dorine swoops in to mediate.

The scene is just as likely to be found today in high school hallways as it was then.

There is a son, Damis, whose solution to everything is aggressive confrontation, and he manages to aimlessly wreck the much craftier plans put in place by smarter characters. Like father like son, Orgon, the father, husband and head of the household, is so deeply confident in his own judgment of character that he is blinded to the blatant lies of the charlatan guest in his home named Tartuffe.

Tartuffe is the person the audience loves to hate; his character is a balance of sensual slimeball, false piety and extravagantly pompous behaviors. He waltzes out in one scene covered head to toe in bows of various patterns and size despite being a symbol of his “humble” status.

It seems like everyone today could think of someone they have met that fits into each of these roles fairly easily. This is in part due to the writing but comes to life in the brilliant delivery.

Something in seeing the actors perform, all the language from centuries ago suddenly makes sense. The only way to fully appreciate a play is to watch it unfold with full emotion and inflection.

“It was so great to see that 17th century humor could still be so funny today,” freshman Lena Figueroa said.

The graduate and guest undergraduate student performers successfully brought a picture of young love, hypocrisy, unheeded reason and the family dynamic alive and into the 21st century.
The last day for the showing of “Tartuffe” on USD’s campus was last Thursday, Feb. 28