A director comes to a show with a vision. That vision can be based on instinct, or lots of thought and research, usually a mix of both methods. Jeff Spanke, director of the currently running comedy, Tartuffe, has written a wonderful note reflecting on his vision for the production. Tartuffe runs for one more weekend, seats are available, here or by calling 765.723.7529. Please enjoy Jeff's thoughts, and then come and enjoy this wonderful show.
Hello. Thank you for coming. It’s good to see you. Before we begin, however, I feel inclined to tell you that the events in which you will be shortly partaking are, sadly, against the law and punishable by death.
Well, at least they were in 1664. Tartuffe’s original publication sparked such a widespread controversy among members of the French Roman Catholic Church, the French aristocracy, and, despite its appeal to the public, King Louis XVI himself, that the crown threatened excommunication or death to anyone who performed in, saw, or even read the work. The cause behind the play’s controversy rested in Moliere’s uncomfortable blurring of vice and virtue, which, as the King would declare, “could be mistaken for each other; although one does not doubt the good intentions of the author, even so [I] forbid it in public…in order not to allow it to be abused by others, less capable of making a just discernment of it.”
In other words, this play exploits the hypocrisy of those who claim to embrace piety, but really seek nothing more than worldly gain. Nevertheless, Moliere didn’t intend to condemn the Crown or the Church, but rather strove merely to make people examine, “all the lying, disguise, cheating, dissimulation, all outward show different from the reality, all contradiction in fact between actions that proceed from a single source…incongruity is the heart of the comic.”
Therefore, in keeping with Moliere’s pursuit of distinguishing the rational from the irrational, I decided to set his play in a time during our nation’s history when nostalgia and virtue seem to have masked neurosis and vice: the 1950s. As a child of the 90s, I remember always thinking that the 1950s were a time of peace and harmony: an age of endless summer days and barbecue-filled nights, when nothing bad ever happened and white, Christian, heterosexual people mowed lawns in denim jeans, vacuumed in pearls, and smoked cigarettes in hospital operating rooms. Yeah, those were the days.
When I was a kid, I remember watching the news at night and getting scared at all of the stories of rain forest depletion, bombings in Kosovo, impending panda extinction, O-Zone destruction, divorce, car wrecks, terror, diseased pork, fatal bug-bites, oil spills, and DEATH. Then, I remember wishing that we could return to a time when no one ever was killed, men and women stayed married, there was no war, no one was scared, and white people and black people lived together in utopian tranquility.
But then I started school. And I read books. And I saw movies. And I learned about things like racism, sexism, ageism, riots, Red Scares, Black Lists, Cold Wars, Korea, missile drills, and bus boycotts. And as quickly as they formed, my idyllic views of the 1950s banished into obscurity alongside POGS and the last two seasons of Happy Days.
In truth, the 1950s were anything but idyllic. People were paranoid, anxious, and unsure of what the future held. Yet, for some reason this decade remains mythically sandwiched in the middle of the bloodiest century in world history: an isolated, harmonious oasis couched in a nostalgic innocence that never existed.
And therein lies the essence of Moliere’s play: separating the rational from the irrational, the vice from the virtue. I sincerely hope you enjoy our little production and that you appreciate the talents and efforts of everyone involved. As my mainstage directorial debut, I have truly enjoyed this entire process. On behalf of Lafayette Civic Theater and the full company, thank you for coming to Tartuffe.