College drama students take on challenge of Moliere's classic from 17th century 'Tartuffe' offers laughs at Alumni Hall Theater

February 28, 1997|By Nora C. Koch | Nora C. Koch,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Look for flamboyant costumes, rhyming verse and plenty of comedy tonight with the opening performance of "Tartuffe," a 17th-century spoof on religious hypocrisy, at Alumni Hall Theater at Western Maryland College.

Written by the French playwright and actor Moliere in the mid-1600s, the neoclassical comedy received intense opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, and was performed only once in its original form during Moliere's life.

Ron Miller, associate professor of theater at WMC and the play's director, chose "Tartuffe" because he thought the acting style would challenge his students. The play is more than two hours long and is spoken entirely in verse.

"[It took] a lot of effort, it's a tough play to do," Miller said. "Modern actors aren't used to speaking in rhyming couplets or [wearing] these strange costumes."

"Tartuffe" is a study of the "unpredictable relationships between art, politics and religion," according to the director's notes. The story, set in 1661 in Paris, develops around the efforts of a con artist hiding behind the facade of a monk, Tartuffe. He takes advantage of the generousity of Orgon, a wealthy French aristocrat whose blind faith in the monk leads him to hand over his inheritance.

"[The other characters are] trying to open Orgon's eyes throughout the course of the play," said Donielle Long, a senior social work major who plays Elmire, Orgon's wife.

The production, part of a two-credit lab course, is designed for advanced acting students and is a graduation requirement for theater majors. Students are required to research their character's social position and other aspects of 17th-century France, and write a paper on their research.

"It's a great cast, maybe the best cast I've had with a performance lab. Every cast member has taken an advanced acting class or worked with me before," Miller said.

The students returned to campus a week before the semester to start rehearsing.

Miller said comedy is the hardest type of play to perform.

"Comedy depends on the audience and you don't have an audience when you rehearse. Any actor can tell you it's easier to cry on stage than to make people laugh," he said.

Susan Oxley, 21, a senior theater arts major who plays Mariane, found the chance to perform comedy refreshing.

"We don't usually do a comedy, so that's a nice change. It's hard to get used to speaking in couplet rhyme," said Oxley, who has performed in about 10 plays at WMC.

Alumni Hall Theater was rearranged into a "thrust" stage for the production. The audience surrounds the stage on three sides, and is very close to the actors.

With this organization, only 79 seats are available for each performance, in addition to the handicapped-accessible area.

"I don't like working in traditional staging. I really like a staging when the audience is on more than one side. Actors have to work more authentically. They have to be honest on stage," Miller said.

"[The thrust staging] brings the audience into the story and creates more intimacy so the audience can see faces and expressions," said Dan Franko, a senior theater arts major.

Chester M. Stacy, 21, a senior graphics design major, is Tartuffe. Stacy has played the lead role in performance lab productions for the past four years.

"Among a lot of people, Moliere's work is classic and the role of Tartuffe is a classic role. It's a favorite leading role, comparable to Hamlet and Macbeth. It's good to have on your resume," Stacy said.

In addition to tonight's performance, other shows are scheduled at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday, and March 6, 7, 8 in Alumni Hall. Tickets are $3 for students, seniors and those affiliated with WMC; $5 for everyone else. Tickets can be purchased by calling the WMC Box Office at 857-2448.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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