Moliere’s Classic ‘Born Again’ as ’80’s Evangelical

Allan Beglarian

The “Demon in human flesh” struck the stage with a double-edged sharp pen in the Theatre Arts Department production of “Tartuffe: Born Again.”

“Tartuffe ou L? Imposteur” (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite) originally penned by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, a 17th century French playwright who used the stage name Moliere, is a barefaced depiction of hypocrisy with a satirical twist that has been adapted to the 20th century by Freyda Thomas.

Skillfully directed by Laurie Woolery, whose previous credits are vast and impressive, “Tartuffe: Born Again” is set in its entirety in a television station, WGOD, in Baton Rouge during the 1980s, and depicts a televangelist preaching morality and God while trying to acquire the wealth, daughter and wife of his new patron, Orgon!

Although times have changed, human nature has changed little. Hypocrisy, alive in Moliere’s 17th century, and still remains rampant as evident by the laughter and ooh-ah’s of the audience.

Issam Khabbaz skillfully depicts the quaint televangelist, Tartuffe. Kahbbaz’s gentle and reassuring demeanor gave credibility to that which could be right out of the slickly groomed characters of the “700 Club,” while Melissa Randel’s choreography augments the realism of the character itself.

Jim Niedzialkowski personifies the duped Orgon with passionate displays from his furious hollering, down to his black shoes in a pigeon-toed stance. And, when mixed with Kyna McMlaskey-Wise’s portrayal of Maryann, Orgon’s timid and indecisive daughter who cannot resist her father’s whimsical demands, it gives new meaning to timidity and force.

The impish Dorine, part jester, part moderator, and director; played by Charissa Romero, is Orgon’s strong-willed assistant who is not afraid to stand up to her boss. She is constantly in trouble while trying to entice Tartuffe to strip off his sheep’s clothing, and to soothe Maryann’s frightful dilemma in having to marry Tartuffe on her father’s command, or to disobey for the sake of love.

Tiffany Brain portrays Elmire, the beautiful wife of Orgon, and the object of Tartuffe’s atrocious desire. Brain, who evokes a Southern bell in pumps and pants, successfully plays the role of a concerned wife, however her response to passionate overtures by the leading actor are less than convincing when she tries to be elusive but seductive.

While hypocrisy takes the center stage in this play and shows its ugly head through human frailty, it is clearly apparent that truth with a sprinkle of laughter is often a good way to ward off duplicity.

Royce Herron designed the costumes with an exceptional eye for duplicating the ’80s hip crowd. And, Guido Girardi’s technical prowess with sound and lighting helps usher the audience form scene to scene with complete harmony. The production staff also played a wonderful role in augmenting the grassroots feel of the performance.

The shows are at 8 p.m. ending this Sunday, and a matinee performance at 2 p.m., also on Sunday. Tickets are $10, $6 for students and seniors, and $4 each for group rates. Tickets could be had at the door or reserved in advance by calling (818) 240-1000, ext. 5618.