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February 9, 2012

Butler Theatre to present version of ‘Tartuffe’ starting Wednesday

INDIANAPOLIS — Butler Theatre presents a contemporary version of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” beginning Wednesday in Lilly Hall Studio Theatre 168.

Previews are at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Feb. 16. Mainstage productions are 8 p.m. Feb. 17 through 18 and 23 through 25, and 2 p.m. Feb. 19 and 26.

Tickets are available by calling (317) 940-9247 or using the ticket reservation form at www.butler.edu/theatre/current-season/reservations.

Theatre Department Chair William Fisher, who is directing this show, said the Richard Wilbur translation preserves the rhymed couplets and that Tartuffe is still the charlatan and hypocrite he’s been since Moliere created the character in 1669.

But rather than set the piece as a French costume drama, the Butler Theatre production takes place today, in the home of an upper-middle-class family, in a city somewhere near the American Bible Belt.

“One of the things that’s really important to me is that theater is always contemporary,” Fisher said. “The story of Tartuffe is a story that’s relevant today. The structure of the language is already at a level of theatrical artifice, and by setting it in today’s world, the students – and the audience – feel closer to the subject and can have more fun with it. Surely we would never fall prey to false prophets – or to false profits.”

“Tartuffe,” sometimes subtitled “The Hypocrite” or “The Imposter,” tells the story of Orgon, who becomes a devoted follower of Tartuffe’s. Tartuffe is a fraudulent religious leader, but Orgon is so enraptured that he pledges his daughter’s hand and eventually all of his worldly goods to him. By the time Orgon’s family reveals Tartuffe’s true self, all is lost. Who can save the day?

Fisher said the play asks the questions: What is the power of the societal lens? How do we participate in our own deceptions? When are we the authors of our own love and our own suffering?

He said that among the intriguing aspects of putting together this production has been working with student-actors of varying experience levels, speaking rhymed verse.

“They don’t want to sound false, or what they think sounds false,” he said. “So one of the challenges becomes how to use the structure and music of the verse and stay true to the meaning and authenticity of the language. ‘Tartuffe’ is Moliere’s best known and most often produced comedies, and for very good reason. Our production brings some extra special twists.”

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