Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / October 23, 2008

Tartuffe shares universal message

In an effort to bring honor to a novel playwright like Moliere through the fall production of Tartuffe, it was crucial for Knox College’s actors and actresses to rehearse for three hours a day, five days a week. The cast had to work with a play set in 17th century France, which tells the story of a middle class man whose spiritual quest leads him to blindly accept a conman into his home.

Since the setting and language of a play from the 17th century are hardly accessible to a 21st century audience, the cast worked hard to communicate Tartuffe’s universal messages to viewers from the Knox community.

“The play functions in rhyming verse, so it can be awkward to understand, but it is very easy to listen to,” Junior Assistant Director Devan Cameron said. “When you listen to the play, it almost has a musical quality to it.”

Even if the audience finds the language hardly relatable, the central themes of the play are timeless.

Cameron said, “Longing for a value and being let down” and being deceived by an individual’s character are just a couple of themes the cast emphasized throughout the play, in order to reach all members of the audience.

As the combination of complex rhyming verse and disparity of the times makes this play especially challenging for its actors and audience members alike, Director Neil Blackadder said it was essential to “choose the cast, then focus on telling the story that the play tells.”

The stylistic challenge of Tartuffe has not been limited to the demand for strong actors and actresses. In fact, this play required a crew that had the expertise to work with the cast on everything from elaborate 17th century costumes, to the ability to build a set covered with buildings and garden structures.

Tartuffe has given set designers an extra challenge with buildings and structures, because as Blackadder said, “typically the set is more abstracted, with less building involved.”

Even though Tartuffe delivered quite a challenge to its cast and crew, Blackadder did not hesitate to call on a student to act as the production’s assistant director.

“I chose this play for the opportunity that it would give the students involved,” said Blackadder.

Devan Cameron embraced the challenge of acting as dramaturge and assistant director for Tartuffe, whose desire to acquire a “literary position in the theater research community” landed her an important position.

While Cameron has lots of experience with the Knox theater department through acting, being student assistant director made her “aware of all the little details in making a production happen.”

She said, “Seeing the isolated scenes become part of a whole through connectivity was very neat.”

Any obstacles Cameron faced as assistant director were not limited to working with a professional director. In fact, since Cameron is “friendly with 100 percent of the people in the cast,” it was not a simple task to take on a position of authority.

Cameron describes the production process as an “organic one that would grow every time we had rehearsal.”

Despite the demands Tartuffe brought to its cast and crew at Knox, the opportunities that it provided have allowed its participants to grow as active members of the theatrical realm of society.

Tartuffe expects to present as rewarding an experience to its audience as it has for the cast and crew. Its first showing will be on Friday, October 24, in time for both homecoming and family/friends weekend.

Elise Hyser

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