Westfield High's production of "Tartuffe" is a smooth blending of the expertise of Director Zoe Dillard, who's fluent in French and assistant-directed the play in college; Technical Director Scott Pafumi, who has Commedia dell'Arte training; and Maria Vetsch, a former professional costumer for Disney.
ADD A TALENTED cast and crew, and the result is a top-notch production that transports the audience to 17th-century France. "Tartuffe" continues the Theater Department's theme this year of "Foolish Deception," yet the characters are so human that the audience members should be able to glimpse bits of themselves within them.
"It's a comedy with substance that mirrors some elements of Moliere's life, in that he, too, married a much-younger woman and then was insecure about it," said Dillard. "Moliere believed you should be in love with your spouse. But in his day, people married for property, money and to keep their lineage going."
However, she added, "They looked for love and romance outside of marriage. But Moliere married for love and wanted it to remain during his marriage."
Tartuffe, himself, is "a con artist who uses what's holy to people to get them to do what he wants," said Dillard. "He's a religious hypocrite who uses religion to manipulate a man to give him his daughter and his land."
It was a controversial play during King Louis XIV's time and, for five years, was banned from being performed in public because of the clergy's objections. "They thought it made it seem like they weren't sincere in their religious beliefs," said Dillard. "But the play is actually about loving sincere, religious zeal, but abhorring religion used for personal gain.
The play was still performed in private and, once it was released to the public, it was the most profitable, well-known and successful of Moliere's plays during his lifetime. Dillard describes it as follows:
"'TARTUFFE' presents a good, decent upper middle-class family that has been invaded by the presence of evil in the guise of religious piety. This evil has been invited into the home by the head of the household, the father and husband, Orgon.
While Orgon must be a clever businessman and usually charming fellow, his weakness, like Molière’s, lies in his obsession with love, which leaves him vulnerable to manipulation.
"Although the script gives every indication that Elmire is a faithful, intelligent and devoted wife, Orgon sees himself as unlovable and therefore, feels threatened by the possibility of adultery. Since reason and truth are unable to penetrate this obsessive insecurity, Tartuffe seizes the opportunity to feed Orgon’s fears with fear of damnation.
"Tartuffe succeeds in manipulating Orgon because he distracts him from the truth of his love for Elmire and the possibility that Orgon may actually have what he fears he cannot — a loving and respectful marriage.
"As much as anything, "Tartuffe" is about the survival of family under assault. While audience members may wish to over-simplify the plot by splitting blame between Orgon and his wickedly pious friend, life is never that simple. Placing blame does not solve the problem.
"For the family to survive, Orgon’s eyes must be opened and his sense of self-worth re-defined; he must see himself as worthy of happiness and love. Fortunately for him, the loyalty of his wife, children and extended family prove to be greater expressions of love than Tartuffe’s endeavors toward his destruction."