Considering "Tartuffe," which opens Tuesday at Minot State University's Aleshire Theater, is about 350 years old and not Shakespeare, one wonders how Moliere's comic masterpiece has such staying power.
"We never tire or have lost the notion that someone is going to try to take advantage of someone else, making them do whatever to get what they want," said director Kevin Neuharth. "That normally implies getting the almighty buck, and that's the case here. We've taken 'Dirty Sexy Money' as our prompt-book."
Moliere wrote in the mid-1600s and is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. Although enjoying the favor of the king, his satires attracted criticism from moralists, and in particular the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, "Tartuffe" had to be modified by Moliere to enable it to be performed. Neuharth has modified it again, taking it into a more modern treatment while keeping true to the original.
"There is no good adaptation that brings it up to current times, but I've tried to make it manageable to the contemporary ear," he said. "I kept it in verse. That made quite a challenge, and with the younger cast I had to explain that they must deal with the punctuation, not the line breaks. The modern idea is to stop at the end of the line, but if there's no stop, they have to continue. But this maintains the rhythms of the story, and especially (the character of) Tartuffe maintains the rhythm. (The play) deals with the notion of religious hypocrisy, but there is even more of that in the original."
Tartuffe, played by Daniel Johnson, is masquerading as a religious person when he is taken into the house of Orgon, played by Josh Snyder. Orgon's mother, Madame Pernelle, played by Kristine Marlow, is completely taken in by Tartuffe, and defends him to the entire family and friends. Orgon's wife Elmire, played by Emily Taylor, recognizes Tartuffe for the scoundrel he is, and objects to Orgon's plan to give him their daughter Mariane, played by Brittany Armstrong, in marriage. Cleante, Orgon's brother-in-law, played by Jordan Crawford, sees through Tartuffe and has a great deal to lose if Tartuffe succeeds in his plan to acquire all Orgon's goods.
A classic character, the servant who is more clever than her master, has origins in this play. Dorine, played by Peg Morris, is, as Neuharth put it, "rascally." Her goal is to make sure everyone lives happily ever after.
"There are way too many plots for a farce!" said Neuharth. "Orgon eventually gives everything away to Tartuffe because he believes that is the way to get closer to God. Tartuffe's fatal mistake is involving the king, who is too smart for his ploy."
Neuharth likes Moliere, but MSU hasn't done any of his plays for a while.
"It is a good warning for us about how we should treat each other," he said. "We should not only treat each other better, but those who treat each other poorly should be held accountable for it. There is a political edge to it - governments can be just as fickle as individuals. There is the lesson, but not as vehement as some contemporary angry plays."
Others in the cast include Grey Wallstrum, Jason Gaarder, Grant Johnson, Claire Green and Chris Pitner.
"Our stage manager is a dual-credit student, taking classes in high school and college," Neuharth said. "She just kind of fell into it, and is doing a great job. She's organized as no kid should be!"
MSU is dispensing with the matinee show and is extending the run in the hopes of attracting more students, but of course all the shows are open to the public as well. Opening Tuesday, it runs through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and free with a current MSU ID. Parking after 5 p.m. is unrestricted except for handicapped spots. Reservations may be made by calling 858-3172.