Making the Audience Squirm, but ‘Funny Squirming’

“I love him,” Wolanin swooned. “In undergrad I first fell in love with him and I saw ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ and ‘The Misanthrope’ and, of course, ‘Tartuffe.’ ‘Tartuffe’ is my favorite. It’s just…”

With that, Director Kristin Wolanin trailed off in smiling reverie. The “him” she fell in love with is Molière, one of the French language’s greatest playwrights, whose comedies have remained popular since the 17th century and continue to grace stages around the world.

The curtain will rise on the Lancaster Country Day theater troupe’s production of “Tartuffe” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 1-3, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 3. Advance tickets are $7 and available here. They will be $10 at the door.

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Written in 1664, “Tartuffe” has left a lasting impression on both French and English, with the name of its main character entering the lexicon as a byword for a religious hypocrite or someone who puts on ostentatiously virtuous airs.

“Tartuffe is a piece of work,” Wolanin said, going easy on the play’s titular pious fraud, who cons and swindles and attempts to corrupt every other character in the play. “He’s selling salvation and the rest of the characters so blindly believe that this guy is their salvation. Until they’re forced to learn otherwise.”

In bringing to life a story written in another language more than three and a half centuries ago, the cast faced a daunting challenge, but the main difficulty came neither from the translation nor cultural distance. What makes “Tartuffe” particularly tricky to perform in a naturalistic way is that the entire play is composed in rhyming couplets.

“Getting the rhythm of the dialogue right has been probably the hardest part for everybody, but when they get there and it just flows and they’re comfortable with it, it’s beautiful,” said Wolanin. “I love that it was written in 1664 and still feels timely. And timeless.”

One thing that’s not timeless is fashion, but for this production, Wolanin opted to be true to the period, decking the cast in full Louis XIV-era regalia. To help get the look right, the school partnered with Millersville University for its costumes, which don’t skimp on the powdery wigs or frilly frocks.

A skill that was vital for the actors to master, and that will be just as important for the audience, is listening closely. While someone in the course of regular talking could speak in iambic pentameter without it sounding stilted, the odds of that person communicating in extemporaneous rhyming couplets are decidedly slimmer.

But Wolanin promises that the audience’s close listening will be rewarded.

“I want people to come away thinking about whether they’re being Tartuffed somehow,” Wolanin said. “It might make people squirm. But funny squirming.”

“Tartuffe,” 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 1-3, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 3. Advance tickets are $7 and available here. They will be $10 at the door.


“Tartuffe” Cast & Crew

Cast:

Orgon — David W.
Elmire — Kendall K.
Damis — Laurel M.
Mariane — May B.
Madame Pernelle — Mira H.
Valere — Hayden F.
Cleante — Ben K.
Tartuffe — Thomas W.
Dorine — Adrien W.
Flipote — Amelia L.
The Officer of the King — Tess M.
M. Loyal — Frannie T.

Crew:

Production Stage Manager — Malia C.
Assistant Stage Managers — Kylie D. and Joan M.
Sound Designers — Grace F. and Piper S.
Sound Run — Piper S.
Props Mistress and Run — Gaby N.
Props Crew — Mira H., Tess M., Maya R. and Linnea W.
Props Run — Linnea W.
Lead Set Design — Carly C.
Set Crew/Stage Crew — Julia B., Riyley E., Amelia L., Piper S., Adrien W. and Linnea W.
Publicity Chief — Charley W.
Costume Mistress and Run — Katrina F.
Costume Crew — Julia B., Sam L., Sarah H., Amelia L., Christopher M., Julia N., Sadi S., Frannie T. and Adrien W.
Costume Run — Amelia L., Christopher M., Julia N. and Sadi S.
Master Electrician and Run — Justin K.
Box Office Manager and Run — Amelia S.
Box Office Assistant and Run — Sophie M.
House Manager and Run — Maya R.
Ushers — Julia B., Carly C., Riley E., Sam L., Grace F. and Sarah H.