“Tartuffe,” a play that was once labeled as “scandalous” in 17th century Paris, is coming to the Ann Arbor Power Center this weekend. The Minneapolis-based Theatre de la Jeune Leune is offering a new interpretation of the famous play, “Tartuffe,” Molire”s tale of deceit and religious hypocrisy.
The story of “Tartuffe” involves a wealthy French family that includes a father, Orgon, his wife Elmire, their son and a daughter who is engaged to be married. Then Tartuffe comes into their lives. Tartuffe is a scheming, evil character who commits atrocious acts all in the name of religion. He weasels his way into the household and takes control of the trusting Orgon, who eventually promises everything he owns as well as his daughter”s hand to Tartuffe. All of this leads up to the famously dramatic cable scene at the end of the play where everything comes to a shocking conclusion.
Although the Theatre de la Jeune Leune follows the principle of “Tartuffe,” they have changed what was originally a farce into a darker, more dramatic piece. Steve Epp, the actor who is playing the character Tartuffe, explains the premise for their new interpretation. He said that Theatre de la Jeune Leune “wanted to pursue and explore the tragic side of the play, and the brutal, vicious side of the play, which leads it to be more provocative with real shocking, controversial elements.”
As a result, Tartuffe, who is detested by everyone except for Orgon in the original production, is now a more complex character who manages to seduce Almire among other things. “Tartuffe is not just an ugly ogre-like character anymore, he is more of an overt hypocrite,” he said. “We tried to pursue the idea of this guy as a fanatic who actually believes the outrageous things he does in religion, and then created a stronger tension with the wife, Almire.” Epp also explains the message of the play, which is to show the consequences of religious hypocrisy and the effects it has on a good family and a faithful society as a whole.
Molire”s play was banned in 1664 and condemned by the church for its blasphemic content, which forced him to rewrite “Tartuffe.” In this modern interpretation, however, the Theatre de la Jeune Leune tries to evoke his struggle against censorship, bringing up the more controversial elements of the play that appeals to audiences today.
The Theatre de la Jeune Lune was founded in 1978 in France and now tours both France and the United States. “Tartuffe” is a play now two and a half years in the making and according to Epp, the theater feels as though it is one of the best productions in their company. Their distinctive approach to performance is based upon their idea of a “physical” approach to acting, which Epp describes as finding aspects of a play “that speak to audiences today theater that on some level is for the people that are in the room, watching.” The company of Jeune Leune bases their productions on classic works by Molire and Shakespeare, although Epp said, “generally when we”re doing those, we really work to make them our own.”
This is the first time that the Theatre de la Jeune Leune is performing in Ann Arbor and this performance marks their debut at the University Musical Society. It has previously received high praise and good reviews from many other newspapers from around the country. Sidewalk Twin Cities, a Minneapolis based newspaper, describes “Tartuffe” as the “sort of show you want all your friends to see, so you can drink wine and smoke and fight about it late into the night.”