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Datebook: Tartuffe Plays On Heartland Theatre Stage

Jesse Folks Tartuffe.jpg
Jesse Folks
Kristi Zimmerman portrays Elmire, Brian Artman is Orgon and Aric Diamani is Tartuffe in the Heartland Theatre production of the classic comedy "Tartuffe" by Moliere.

The classic comedy "Tartuffe" by Moliere will feature a contemporary twist this weekend at the Heartland Theatre stage in Normal.

The story follows a con man who wraps himself in the mantle of the holy church and swindles a gullible guy out of all he owns, but who in the end gets his comeuppance.

Don LaCasse will direct the play, "Tartuffe," which can be variously translated as the hypocrite, the imposter, or the truffle. He said the story continues to hold relevance today as it deals with hypocrisy and gullibility.

“The same issues it was dealing with then, we continue to deal with today. It’s an incredibly universal script in that way. Plus, some very fine characterization,” said LaCasse.

He said the production was postponed for a year and a half, noting he directed the play roughly 30 years ago and it still serves as one of his favorites.

“To me, it really speaks to, I think, what this country has gone through over the past 7-10 years,” he said.

LaCasse said the play will be featured in the current day instead of the 1600s.

“We want to keep one foot in the contemporary world and one foot in the 17th century, a difficult balancing act,” said LaCasse. "But because of the different things like the language of the play being verse, it's not everyday conversation and it lends that sense of being from another time. So, we kind of keep a foot in there.”

He said the play also will include contemporary costumes and will follow the translation of Richard Willbur. LaCasse said Willbur’s translation has been a standard since 1955 for this play, describing Willbur as a former poet laureate of the U.S. and winning several Pulitzer Prizes.

“I love that version. It’s just so alive and it sparkles,” he said.

According to LaCasse, in the play, Moliere was not writing against the church; he was writing against religious hypocrisy. However, the church at that time, didn’t see the difference and it was one reason why it was banned.

At that time, the play was done as part of an extravaganza called the ‘Pleasures of Enchanted Isle,” but it wasn’t completed, and it was still banned, said LaCasse. Years later, the play was reworked, and characters' names were changed, but it continued to be banned. LaCasse explained some critics say these original works may have been sharper than the final piece.

“Finally in 1669 it was approved, but a lot had changed in the Catholic Church at that time. Unfortunately, we don’t have the three early versions and it’s a shame because we can’t see really how he changed it,” he said.

Moving forward, LaCasse said "Tartuffe" will not age out in spite of other plays falling out of favor.

“I expect 'Tartuffe,' particularly since it's themes, which ring as much to a contemporary audience as they may have in the 17th century, I don’t see human nature changing enough to change it,” he said. “I just think people are going to see a lot of contemporary overtones in the play to things like fakes news, the big lie, things of that type.”

"Tartuffe" opens this weekend and also will be performed Sept. 23-26 and Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the theater, 1110 Douglas St., Normal.

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