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The Simpsonian

‘Tartuffe’ takes comical approach to today’s fake news

by Randy Paulson, Senior Staff Reporter

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Simpson’s first fall play, Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” promises to be an entertaining comedy and an insightful tale on exposing deception in those we trust.

Jennifer Nostrala, professor of theater arts and the director of the play, said the show centers around a gullible man, Orgon, who invites a seemingly pious man named Tartuffe into his house. However, to the rest of Orgon’s family, Tartuffe reveals himself to be a fraud.

“He is really a con man out to convince Orgon to give him all of his wealth,” Nostrala said. The rest of the show becomes about Orgon’s family trying to convince him Tartuffe is not who he appears to be, despite Orgon’s stubborn denial.

“Orgon wants Tartuffe to be a pious man, and so he believes Tartuffe because he needs to believe Tartuffe,” she said.

While Moliere originally wrote “Tartuffe” in 17th century France, Nostrala said the version of “Tartuffe” Simpson Theatre is doing is set in 1980s America to reflect various scandals involving television evangelists that occurred during that decade.

Senior Christopher Hanson, who plays Tartuffe, said this role has been different from any other role he has had in previous shows.

“He’s sleazy, he’s sneaky, he’s kind of under the radar in his evilness,” Hanson said.

Although the show is a comedy set in the ’80s, Hanson said its message has modern relevance: “It’s very applicable to a lot of the things going on. It’s about religious hypocrisy, and whether it’s religious hypocrisy or just hypocrisy in general, there’s a lot of things floating around in the world that we easily latch onto.”

When describing “Tartuffe” and the reasons the theater department chose to show it this semester, Nostrala mentioned a phrase that has become common in today’s political environment: fake news.

And she said Simpson is not alone in showing this play for that reason.

“There are multiple productions of Tartuffe going on right now in the U.S. because of this notion of dealing with credulous people who are easily duped by somebody who is telling them what they want to believe,” Nostrala said. “Given our current political climate and the reality of the world that we’re in, I felt that this satire was appropriate.

Three places she said that are also putting on productions of “Tartuffe” were Concordia University in Nebraska, Grand Canyon University in Arizona and Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.

“A lot of people are doing it right now, and I think that’s very telling,” said freshman Jack Strub, who plays Orgon.

Strub said it has been an interesting experience playing the character who knows nothing while the audience knows everything. At one point in the show, he said his character says he would rather believe what he sees, not what others tell him.

“Maybe that can equate to headlines on Twitter. You’re just reading the headline, not necessarily the story,” Strub said.

Junior Audrey Kaus, who plays Orgon’s wife, Elmire, said the show is able to tackle its serious themes using humor.

“Some of the physical mannerisms and things that happen are borderline slapstick. It’s very farcical,” Kaus said.

Hanson said one of his favorite parts about the show is that it’s funny, but he and the rest of the cast get to say something with it.

“I want (the audience) to see it as more a reflection on life today … and looking at, who are the Tartuffe’s in our own life? Who are the people we so easily believe when we really shouldn’t?” Hanson said.

Tickets for the show are on sale on the Simpson Theatre webpage and at the box office in Blank Performing Arts Center, which is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. this week.

The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as a matinee at 1 p.m. Sunday in Pote Theatre.

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