Reading it today, you might not guess that Tartuffe was a play that got its author into trouble. Yet the 17th-century playwright Molière found a heap of it in 1664 when he first had it performed privately for King Louis XIV and his court at Versailles. The king liked the play, but his many devoutly Catholic courtiers took it as an attack on religion, and the archbishop of Paris went so far as to issue an edict excommunicating anyone who performed, watched, or read the play.
In reality, the play is a deft satire on hucksters who trade on their ability to make a public display of how pious or virtuous they are. The title character, whose name has become synonymous with religious hypocrisy, is a self-styled man of God who has ensnared a wealthy nobleman named Orgon, with an eye toward stealing his money and his beautiful young wife. Orgon’s family has to use all their powers of sarcasm, debate, and entrapment to loosen Tartuffe’s grip.
The California-based Dell’Arte Physical Theatre comes to UNT on Thursday for a one-time performance of this play. As their name implies, they act in the Italian commedia dell’arte style, an ancient method of comic acting that Molière knew about and was greatly influenced by. Their fast-paced style should give us an idea of how the play was originally performed 445 years ago and bring Molière’s stinging wit home to us.
Tartuffe plays at 8pm Thu at UNT University Theatre, Welch & W Chestnut sts, Denton. Tickets are $15-30. Call 940-565-2428.