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‘Tartuffe’ at Larking House

Updated: Apr 3


New Approach Promises a Stylized, Modernized Take on the Classical 1664 Comedy by Molière.


By Eric Marchese


While prolific French playwright Molière wrote dozens of plays during a nearly 30-year span, perhaps none other has endured like “Tartuffe.” The 1664 comedy, alternately known as “The Imposter” and “The Hypocrite,” features three roles – Tartuffe, Elmire, and Orgon – that are among the greatest in classical theatre.


The work’s popularity among theatre companies hasn’t dimmed over the centuries, and Orange County troupes large and small have programmed it to coincide with the play’s 360th anniversary. This April, ahead of one by Laguna Playhouse later this spring, the fledgling Anaheim company The Larking House is mounting a new production.


Lizzy McCabe, Larking House’s artistic director, is directing the famed play. She says the classical comedy, “renowned as his ‘masterpiece,’… highlights the hypocrisy of religious zealots and points out the absurd tendencies and habits of the upper class through the use of commedia dell’arte stock characters and the implementation of Alexandrine verse in rhyming couplets.”


The story, she said, revolves around “a wealthy family who has been infiltrated by a slimy, falsely pious man named Tartuffe. While most of the family sees through his ruse, Tartuffe has captured the admiration of the household patriarch and property-owner, Orgon.” After Orgon promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to Tartuffe, the rest of the family takes steps to help Orgon see Tartuffe for who he really is – a hypocrite (hence one of the comedy’s alternate titles).


The Larking House staging is McCabe’s first time helming the show (or any by Molière), though in her student days, she directed individual scenes. “As a company on a limited budget, we are drawn to works that exist in the public domain.”


While most similar troupes, she said, “gravitate towards Shakespearean plays, as they tend to draw a crowd and are more familiar to most artists,” she was attracted to “Tartuffe” in that “it’s a piece that I do not see produced” by O.C. theatres “very often at all, and my previous experience working on it during my undergrad left me itching to stage the whole thing one day.”


“Tartuffe” has, over the centuries, received multiple translations. The Larking House is using the Jeffery D. Hoeper translation available from Gutenberg Press, a version McCabe said “suited our concept the best while still maintaining the rhyming structure of the original.” She said she and the company have made “minor cuts to the script for the sake of pacing, but overall the show is looking like it will run approximately two hours.”


McCabe said that in casting the show, she wanted actors with “sharp comedic instincts and a solid handling of the elevated language. I also look for how easily actors will take direction in the room and how willing they are to do things outside of their comfort zone.”

 

In casting Coleman Blue Summers as Tartuffe, Mack Angel Tapia II as Orgon, Genevieve Kauper as Elmire, and others, the director said she found exactly what she wanted: “I have a wonderful cast of very talented and very funny artists.”


McCabe relates that the comfort level among her and her actors is high, owing to the fact that she has previously directed several of them. “In fact, the entire cast is composed of Larking House Resident Artists, which is very exciting.”


To wit, Summers, Kauper, and Jonathan Herrera (cast here as Valere) were in the company’s 2022 staging of “A Streetcar Named Desire”; Kauper was in the troupe’s 2023 world premiere “Parts & Pieces” and was in McCabe’s Wayward Artist production of “JU1CE”; Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga, Mariane in “Tartuffe,” was in McCabe’s production of “Cock” last year; and Summers and Gabbie G. (cast here as Dorine) were in Larking House’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the summer of 2023.


Rounding out the cast are Jacobii Leal as Damis, Gavin Antoino Duran as Cleante, Jarid McCarthy as M. Loyal, and Emmanuel Madera as Officer (and understudy for Summers).

McCabe said she and various cast members have also collaborated on numerous past non-Larking House projects wherein the actors worked as designers or production staffers, so the familiarity level of this “Tartuffe” is indeed tangible.


Comprising the “Tartuffe” production team are designers Spike Pulice (scenic), Jema Amezola (costumes), Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga (hair and makeup), Matthew M. Hayashi (lighting), Simon J.O. Martin (props) and Alex Aguilar (sound). Emily Neva Boliver is stage manager, Sidney Aaron Aptaker is assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Tony Sanchez is the technical director.


You might ask why any company would resurrect a show that isn’t new, and along the same lines, ask yourself what Larking House can bring to “Tartuffe” that the company’s patrons might not have seen elsewhere.


McCabe said, “I actually don’t think most theatregoers these days have actually seen ‘Tartuffe.’ I think sometimes producers are afraid of it because it is a little more specifically critical. The script is not as well known amongst a non-theatregoing audience, so it is harder to get people in the door for it.”


“The classics are so great,” she said, continuing the line of thinking. “They are the blueprint for all the stories we have today, and taking a 200-year-old play and discovering what makes it relevant still in 2024 is so much fun as a director.”


She said that the show’s commedia roots “make this show in particular an absolute playground for high concept. Our space is so atypical that it makes anything we do vastly different right off the bat.”


More to the point, McCabe noted, “this production of ‘Tartuffe’ is stylized and modernized – think Marie Antoinette making Tik-Toks, or Napoleon Bonaparte making a rap album with Kanye West, or even ‘The Real Housewives of 17th-Century France’.”


McCabe said she and her company have worked to overcome such obstacles as “navigating the language in a way that is interesting for the audience” and making “an unconventional found space feel like a theatre.”


The result, she relates, “has been a really joyful process.”


“I love to laugh, and there is so much comedic talent in the room that it’s impossible to get through a single scene without just absolutely cracking up. The cast and crew are working so hard and, to be honest, I just really could not have asked for a better team.”


Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects for more than 39 years as a freelance and staff journalist at a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theatre and the arts throughout Orange County and beyond.

 

‘Tartuffe’

The Larking House

1736 N. Meadowlark Lane, Anaheim, CA

April 4 - 13, 2024




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