Tartuffe director Dr. Adrianne Adderley loves non-realistic theatre. That’s not to say she thinks theatre can’t be realistic; she just believes that since the advent of the cinema, story-telling with cameras does realism better. Non-realistic drama requires the audience to abandon their sense of logic as the characters on stage struggle to make meaning out of absurd situations.
“If you think Shakespeare, if you think Moliere,” Adderley says, “if you think of the heightened language plays, they all have more of an attraction to me.” She laughs and says she always wants to do Shakespeare, but the theatre department knew the National Players would be bringing Shakespeare to MMC this April. When considering this year’s season, they chose to produce Moliere’s Tartuffe, a non-realistic play to its core. After a shortened rehearsal period of six weeks rather than the normal eight, the entire ensemble of Tartuffe, successfully interpreted an enduring and challenging piece of culture on the Mount Marty stage.
Set in France under the reign of Louis XIV (1643 to 1715), Tartuffe tells the story of a wealthy family that’s nearly ruined by a man who feigns piety to win adoration. Tartuffe’s name literally means to “truffle,” which at the time meant to deceive. Played by Vincent Raia, Orgon is the head of the house and is so impressed with Tartuffe (Billy Danner) that he makes Tartuffe a personal advisor. The action intensifies when he declares his intention to wed Tartuffe to his daughter Mariane (Rachel Shippy) who is having her own love affair with the dashing Valere (Ricardo “Maca” Marroquin). Despite warnings from his family and friends, Orgon remains recklessly devoted to Tartuffe. Tartuffe nearly steals Orgon’s estate but is foiled in the end by an officer of the King (John Hodson).
Adderley suggests that Orgon’s incredible inability to listen to others is the flaw at the root of the conflict. Echoing Mount Marty’s Benedictine values, Adderley says to err is to be human, but failure is when we refuse to listen. “That (The importance of listening) was one thing I was hoping people would walk away with. Instead of being stuck on your own interpretation of something and seeing it your own way, to pay attention to the people around you. The people who love you aren’t going to allow you to wander too far in the wrong direction.” Orgon’s blunders are the source of much of the show’s humor. Vincent Raia says his challenge as an actor was to embody a self-important man. “I really had to play up the fat and stupid parts. You gotta take a little ‘Peter Griffin’ with you out there.”
Most actors found memorizing a script written entirely in twelve syllable lines of rhyming couplets to be a challenge. A notable exception is Raia, who for the last two years has been composing an epic narrative poem called “The Journey to Corn Mountain,” which is also written entirely in rhyming couplets. With that anecdote aside, as a whole, the actors experienced difficulties memorizing a script that was bound to poetry rules. Abby Turner praised her fellow actors, saying, “I’m quite proud
with everyone for doing such a great job at learning a script that might not be the most normal way of talking nowadays.” Shows with looser dialogue allow the actors some flexibility, especially in the case of an actor forgetting his or her lines. “You have to know every single word,” she says about this show. “You can’t improv,” she laughs, “unless you’re a really good rhymer.”
The elevated language can challenge actors and audiences alike. Adderley says there are two solutions to this problem. First, she says, actors must fully understand the meaning behind the words and then deliver the lines correctly. The other essential piece is to communicate meaning through action. She says today, people are inclined to believe language is the best or only way to communicate, but suggests that action is the primary way to communicate. Language, she says, is used to clarify action and she demanded clear actions from her actors. Because the show was approached from a non-realistic perspective, she pressed her actors to exaggerate everything from their facials, to their vocalizations and gestures. She says the mantra of, “Give me more,” certainly was applied to the actors’ character development.
When creating the set, Design and Technical Director Jim Hovland strayed from his realistic inclinations. Hovland says he came to the first meeting with a bunch of detailed ideas of French living rooms with lots of set pieces only to realize that the show wasn’t heading in a realistic direction. He said his challenge was to embrace non-realism. “Doing an unrealistic set with just the door structures and the platform really took me out of my element but it challenged me in a way that was good for me personally and was also good for the show.” The difference between a realistic and an unrealistic set, he says, is what sets the scene: The set pieces communicate the setting on a realistic set whereas the actors communicate the setting on an unrealistic set. With a grin, Hovland says that he was able to incorporate at least one realistic piece into the set: some curtains around the doors. “That was my touch, to help sell the idea that we are in a living room. I wanted to throw in ten percent of realism.”
Each Mount Marty theatre production is viewed and critiqued by a Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCATF) respondent. The critic gives the theatre crew feedback and can also nominate actors for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Nominees perform short pieces at the regional KCACTF, a weeklong festival in which artists in the theatre community share and view each other’s talents and ideas. Freshmen Abbey Turner and Billy Danner were selected to represent Mount Marty at next year’s festival. Both said the nomination is an honor and a surprise. Danner says, “I’ve heard the festival is loads of fun and I’m really excited to participate.”
Adderley estimates roughly fifty people put their hands on the show in some way, giving up thousands of hours of time. She says the value of the show is directly proportional to the amount of human energy required to produce a worthwhile product. “If this much human life has to go into this project, something fine has to come from it. It can’t be, oh that was fun. To me that’s a giant fail.”
On opening night, the audience enjoyed Vince’s dynamic portrayal of Orgon. Billy’s Tartuffe was slimy and at times, cringe-worthy. Abbey as Elmire earned the biggest laugh of the night in a scene where she pounded on a table, in a desperate attempt to stir her dull-witted husband. Throughout the run, audiences were treated to an artfully simple set that still attended to the finer details. Through non-realism, Tartuffe certainly communicated truths to those who attended a showing.