By Molière with a new translation by Paul Weidner
Directed by Carol Bennett Gerber
The 42nd Street Workshop
432 W. 42nd St. 5th fl. (695-4173)
Equity showcase (closes Dec. 9)
Review by Julie Halpern

In this age of born-again Christian fervor, Molière's masterpiece is as relevant today as it was in 1667. Paul Weidner's lively new translation retains the 17th-century French feel, using English blank verse with rhymes slipped in at appropriate moments, creating a refreshingly modern result. The decision to update the story to the burnt-orange, paisley, miniskirted world of 1967 was truly inspired. Director Carol Bennett Gerber seized upon the comic opportunities Weidner's script presented, resulting in tightly controlled but very humorous contributions made by the talented ensemble.

Orgon, the patriarch of a wealthy family, has become enamored of a down-and-out religious fanatic named Tartuffe and has brought him into into his home, where he creates endless disruptions. In typical Molière fashion, the zealot Tartuffe is in reality a sleazy womanizer with a police record a mile long. Orgon goes so far as to arrange a marriage between Tartuffe and his young daughter Marianne (who is in love with the handsome, young Valère), and signs away his fortune. When Orgon's glamorous wife Elmire sets Tartuffe up in a seduction, his transparency becomes obvious and Orgon finally banishes him from the household. The wily Tartuffe is determined to hold on to his ill-gotten gains, but eventually is apprehended.

Charles E. Gerber was a slyly uproarious Tartuffe, resplendent in his caftan, dragging around a huge cross. Peter Newman as Orgon was a skilled physical comedian whose befuddled presence was a delight. Debra Whitfield's stylish Elmire was sexy and very funny. Patricia LoPiccolo was a gentle, sympathetic Marianne. Tom Berdik's elegant Cleante breezed through his lengthy speeches, creating a fun-loving voice of reason. Holly Hawkins was a riot as the tart-tongued housekeeper Dorine. Jeff Taylor's gallant Valère was a pleasure, as was Shade Vaughn's hotheaded, excitable Damis.

Strong support was contributed by Jennifer Sage, Carrie Edel, Chris Jones, and Walter Hyman.
The simple, uncredited set and lights worked well enough, and the groovy period costumes, also uncredited, flattered the attractive cast. Lively jazz favorites helped enhance the period ambience.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern