Whit MacLaughlin Whit MacLaughlin is a director, actor, and Barrymore award-winning designer who lives, works, and teaches in Philadelphia. He is also artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories, an experimental theatre company whose recently acclaimed original work includes The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates and Stupor. Whit recently directed Drink Me at InterAct Theatre, Taking Sides at Act II, and Bunnicula at The Arden Theatre Company.
Villanova Theatre presents its third production of the 2001-2002 theatre season: The 17th-century comedy Tartuffe, written by the master of French farce, Molière, and translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
Tartuffe runs February 19–24 and February 26–March 3, 2002, at Vasey Hall on the Villanova University campus, and is directed by guest artist Whit MacLaughlin, a Philadelphia-based director, actor, and Barrymore Award-winning designer. Tickets are priced $18–$20 and may be ordered by calling the Villanova Theatre Box Office at (610) 519-7474.
The play revolves around a wily con artist named Tartuffe who is posing as a devout man in order to dupe the unsuspecting Orgon, a sanctimonious fool who has embraced a pious life in his middle age. Orgon is intrigued and a bit infatuated by Tartuffe, who–behind Orgon’s back–attempts to seduce his wife, marry his daughter, and run off with the deed to his house. MacLaughlin has transported the setting of the play from 17th-century France to modern-day America.
“Our production takes place at the end of the 20th century,” said MacLaughlin. “The place is Arlington, Virginia, just outside the Beltway. Orgon works at the Pentagon; he may have helped out in a ‘recent conflict’ and now he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on in his life.
“He takes in a scruffy, but authentic-seeming ‘holy man’ he met on a military junket, and installs him in his own home,” he continued. “There is something reassuring about the sensitive Tartuffe, but Orgon’s family doesn’t respond very graciously to him. In fact, they’re skeptical and a bit hostile.” Moving the setting of the play to the late 1990s allows MacLaughlin to mine the situational humor in the play while making it more accessible to contemporary audiences.
“This is my first time directing for Villanova and I wanted to make the setting of the play interesting for the students,” said MacLaughlin. “It will help make the play feel fresh to them. Everybody still speaks in rhyming couplets because it is fun – kind of like rap.”
“There is definitely mischief in the time shift. I am delighted with how you lean on this play a little and some pretty interesting things come out,” he said. “We’re being a bit fast and loose with Tartuffe in order to be true to Molière’s spirit and intention. Hopefully, our production will kind of get your goat.”
MacLaughlin’s production is unlikely to cause the scandal Molière’s original production did. Le Hypocrite, Tartuffe’s original title, premiered in 1664 during a celebration at Versailles; it immediately became a source of debate within French society. King Louis XIV, Molière’s patron, enjoyed the performance and found the play amusing. The Archbishop of Paris, however, found the subject matter to be tasteless, vulgar, and immoral. Much of Louis’s court was in agreement with the Archbishop and their sentiments were conveyed in the leading newspapers of the day.
“What exactly caused Tartuffe to be met with such derision is open to speculation,” said John Patrick O’Connor, Villanova Theatre’s production dramaturg. “What we do know is that much of Louis’s court did not appreciate seeing their lifestyle laid bare for public scrutiny. They may have feared that if the public was to see this play, their way of life would be made vulnerable. To them, Tartuffe not only exposed the frivolousness of their lives but also mocked their bigotry and religious hypocrisy.”
The controversy that swirled around Molière and Tartuffe prevented further public performance for years; the play that we know of today as Tartuffe was finally presented to the general public in 1669; it was an instant success and quickly became a permanent fixture in the French repertory. “It all comes from Molière,” MacLaughlin said. “He found the way to take certain universalities of human behavior and find a richness of character and situation that feels very fresh even now. He was very insightful about how people actually behave. And he was pretty much unsparing. His plays are classics.”
Molière was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in Paris, France, and baptized on January 15, 1622. His theatrical antics as a child disturbed his deeply religious mother and his distinguished father, who held the position of upholsterer to the King. Instead of pleasing his father by becoming an upholsterer, Jean-Baptiste chose to immerse himself in theatre, and in 1643 he founded The Illustrious Theatre Company. Molière's troupe earned great success and the appreciation of the King and went on to become one of the most respected troupes in Paris. Molière wrote many of his most famous plays during these years, including Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), The Misanthrope (1666), and The Miser (1668). On February 17, 1673, while performing the lead role in his play The Imaginary Invalid, Molière became ill and died hours after finishing his performance.
Villanova Theatre’s production of Tartuffe is translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur, who is known for both his own Pulitzer Prize-winning works of poetry and his masterful translations of Molière’s major plays, including Tartuffe, Don Juan, The Misanthrope, The School for Husbands, and The School for Wives.
MacLaughlin, who previously directed A Doctor In Spite Of Himself, and acted in The School for Wives and Tartuffe, is artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories, an experimental theatre company whose acclaimed original works include The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates and Stupor. He recently directed Drink Me at InterAct Theatre, Taking Sides at Act II Playhouse, and Bunnicula at Arden Theatre Company.
The production team assembled for Tartuffe includes scenic designer Nick Embree, lighting designer Jerold R. Forsyth, costume designer Charlotte Cloe Fox, and properties designer cdavid hall-cottrill.
The cast is composed of Villanova graduate theatre students and undergraduate theatre minors. Taylor Williams portrays Orgon’s mother, Mme. Pernelle; Darren Lenz is Orgon; Daniella Vinitski is Orgon’s wife, Elmire; Tony Bozzuto is Orgon’s son, Damis; Jennifer Kulick is Orgon’s daughter, Mariane; Jason Moreen is Valère, a young man in love with Mariane; Brian Manelski is Cléante, Orgon’s brother-in-law; Juan M. Bertrán-Astor is Tartuffe; Dana Tretta is Dorine, Mariane’s lady-maid; Ed Milliner is M. Loyal, a bailiff; Nicholas Martorelli is a police officer; and Abby Jill Suchting is Flipote, Mme. Pernelle’s maid.
Tartuffe performs February 19–24 and February 26–March 3, 2002. Press Opening is Wednesday, February 20, 2002, at 8:00pm. Performances are held in Vasey Hall, Lancaster & Ithan Avenues, on the Villanova University campus. Showtimes are 8:00pm Tuesday–Saturday and 2:00pm Sunday. Tickets are priced $18–$20, with discounts for seniors, groups, and students.
Next on stage: The Tony Award-winning musical Chicago, directed by Villanova Theatre Department Chairperson and three-time Barrymore Award nominee Peter M. Donohue, OSA. Chicago is written by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred, and choreographed by Philadelphia choreographer/dancer Myra Bazell in the quintessential Bob Fosse style. Chicago runs April 9–28, 2002.
For tickets and information, call the Villanova Theatre Box Office at 610-519-7474 or visit http://www.villanova.edu/artsci/theatre/.
Ushers are needed for every performance. Ushers arrive one hour before the show, hand out programs, help seat patrons, and see the show for free! Please contact the Villanova Theatre Box Office at 610-519-7474 if you would like to usher.
We need volunteer crew members to help build sets, hang lights, and sew costumes. This is a great way to experience theatre "behind the scenes" and meet new people. Please contact Business/Production Manager Elisa Loprete Hibbs at 610-519-4897 to volunteer for production crew.
Mme. Pernelle, Orgon's mother: Taylor Williams
Orgon, Elmire's husband: Darren Lenz
Elmire, Orgon's second wife: Daniella Vinitski
Damis, Orgon's son: Tony Bozzuto
Mariane, Orgon's daughter: Jennifer Kulick
Valère, in love with Mariane: Jason Moreen
Cléante, Orgon's brother-in-law: Brian Manelski
Tartuffe, a hypocrite: Juan M. Bertrán-Astor
Dorine, Mariane's maid: Dana Tretta
M. Loyal, a bailiff: Ed Milliner
A Police Officer: Nicholas Martorelli
Flipote, Mme. Pernelle's maid: Abby Jill Suchting