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ABOUT TARTUFFE: BORN AGAIN

(This is a strictly modern adaptation, set in a TV studio in Baton Rouge Louisiana in the 1980’s, during the heyday of some of America’s most infamous Tartuffes: Jimmy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and the gang. Dorine, the maid, is replaced by Dorine the floor manager of the studio and Orgon’s gal Friday. The end of the play is altered to suit the needs of modern America: Tammy Fae De Salle, a real estate appraiser, comes in and informs Orgon that Tartuffe is selling all his property to expand development of his teleministry, and the messenger from the king is “Agent Loyal, FBI.” Like the Deus Ex Machina that he was in the original, he drops from above in a cherry picker. Otherwise the play closely resembles Molière’s work. )

 

CAST OF TARTUFFE (6 men, 5 women)

 

MRS. PERNELL: mother to Orgon ('70s)
ORGON: master of the house (50's)
ELMIRE: Orgon’s wife (30’s)
MARY ANN: (Orgon’s daughter (20’s)
DAMIS: Orgon’s son (mid-late 20’s)
VALERE: Mary Ann’s fiancé (30’s)
CLEANTE: Elmire’s brother (40’s)
TARTUFFE: a defrocked televangelist (40’s-50’s)
DORINE: Orgon’s studio floor manager (any age)
MS. TAMMY FAE DE SALLE: a real estate appraiser
LOYAL: an FBI agent


SCENE SAMPLE

(The following opening to Act II is a sermon-in-progress, completely original; no form of it appears in Molière’s opus. Not to criticize his masterpiece but I always felt that we, the audience, should have had a few moments of Tartuffe to ourselves. Considering that Molière played Orgon, it’s understandable that it is the larger of the two roles. We tend to forget he was an actor first, a playwright second. NOTE: Double quotes indicate that he is actually practicing. Unquoted lines are him talking to himself.)

TARTUFFE
“My friends, are you prepared to meet the Lord?
To stand before him with your soul outpoured
And say, ‘Oh, God, forgive my wicked actions!
I was ensnared by Satan’s sweet attractions!”
No, no, too soon for Satan, lead in slowly.
Start upbeat first, then throw in something holy.
“ The Holy Ghost…” no, no. “The Holy Spirit
Fills you with his voice, but can you hear it?”
And then I’ll listen. “Ssh, what does it say?
It says, ‘I’ve come to be with you today,
To take your troubled soul out of perdition!”
And now I’ll hit ‘em with some repetition:
“Can God deliver drunkards? Yes he can!
Can God deliver dope fiends? Yes he can!
Can God deliver perverts? Every man
And woman who has lived in sin can be
Forgiven by his blesséd ministery.
Forgiven as I preach this Gospel to ‘ya,
Praise Jesus, praise the Lord and Hallelujah!”
That’s good. Now, next I tell a little story
Of someone’s sinful life and rise to glory.
Let’s see…”A man came to me yesterday.
A sinner, like yourself, he’d lost his way.
He had no fortune, children, friends or wife.
What did he have? A sinful, sordid life.
Tormented by his guilt, he could not sleep.
He told me this, and then began to weep,
And I began to weep because I knew
That this man’s soul knew what it had to do.
‘ Right now,’ I said, ‘I’ll show you all the poss’ble
Ways of beating Satan with the Gospel.
Right now, the spirit of the Lord will speak
And show the power of Jesus to the weak!’
Down on his knees that sinner went. We prayed.
He shook from head to toe. He was afraid,
For many were his sins and great his pain,
But he knew he had everything to gain
By looking up to God and shouting, ‘yea!
I cast off Satan from this very day!
The power of sin will touch me nevermore,
I crush you, Satan, right here on the floor!’”
(He stomps his foot on the floor)
Oh yeah, they always love that stompin’ bit.
And then I’ll point the finger. “Now admit,
That man is you, and you and you, and you
All know what Jesus charges you to do.
‘ But how do I crush Satan?’ You cry out.
You lift your hands to Heav’n above and shout
‘ I give myself to Jesus!’ Then you give,
And give so that your soul can start to live!”
There’s crying, shouting, moaning, then oh, honey,
The perfect moment: Hit ‘em up for money.
“ Right now, take out the largest bill you’ve got
And watch the devil shrivel on the spot!
You’ve got a hundred? Take it out, my friend!
You’ve got a fifty? That’s what you must spend.
And if you’ve got but one, God understands,
But give it up and soon those empty hands
Are full, oh yes, they’re full of sweet salvation!
(Pause)
Bah-dah, bah-dah, bah-dah-dah, in the nation.”
No no, not nation, that spells politics.
With politics, I need more subtle tricks.
Let’s see. There’s veneration—no, creation!
“ Creation of a Bible school for you!
Our missionary work down in Peru,
A center for our troubled adolescents,
Another for our aging convalescents.
But don’t expect to get to Paradise
By giving, if it isn’t sacrifice.
You sacrifice for God and here’s your prize:
You’ll give that dirty devil two black eyes!
The Holy Ghost is here with you tonight!
The Holy Ghost will help you make it right.
Put Jesus in your life, right now, right here,
And watch your pain and worry disappear!”
They’re screaming now. Then I shout once again,
“ Praise God, praise Jesus, praise the Lord, amen!”
I take my handkerchief and wipe my brow,
That was inspiring. I deserve a bow.


Here’s what the critics are saying
about Tartuffe: Born Again:
  

What (Tartuffe) has in common with his 17th century counterpart is that he is…a thoroughly entertaining phony…Thomas’ adaptation is a clever piece of work. She follows Molière’s plot closely, inventively adapting scenes and characters to the TV studio situation. But the real pleasure of Thomas’ adaptation lies in the language. She maintains Molière’s rhymed-couplet structure but her parlance is distinctly contemporary. Thus, Dorine, Orgon’s floor manager, can say to the would-be seducer: “And I could see you naked as a jay/ and I would shrug and turn and walk away.” And later, the excited Tartuffe can talk about “getting it on.” It is lively, vivid language that is at once modern and old-fashioned, slangy and formal, recognizably Molière and obviously not.

Douglas J. Keating
Philadelphia Inquirer

Freyda Thomas’ new (Broadway) adaptation of the classic Tartuffe is set in a recording studio in the American south…the hypocritical title character is an oily televangelist -- and Orgon, who falls for Tartuffe's ersatz piety and gives them all his worldly goods, is the studio’s blustering owner... since the augmented title may lead you to think otherwise, let me hasten to report that the play is indeed Tartuffe, cast in Molière 's trademark couplets and following his familiar plot. Inasmuch as it's an adaptation rather than a translation, however, the syntax of those couplets has undergone some rather significant transformation. Consider the wonderfully cynical monologue that Thomas has furnished Tartuffe at the start of Act Two, wherein he plots each twist of the sermon he plans to deliver. Turning to the audience, he asks us to "... take out the largest bill you've got/and watch the devil shrivel on the spot." The rhythm and the context are pure Molière, but the locution is pure Pat Robertson.

Clifford A. Ridley
Philadelphia Inquirer

... much of the amusement comes from seeing how Thomas has managed to transpose the plot. She mixes in healthy doses of 20th-century jargon, which sound funniest when they come from the sassy Dorine (a paid companion in the original, here the station’s floor manager)... warning Orgon’s daughter... about the proposed arranged marriage with the preacher, she taunts, "it's clear you want to be Tartuffillated!” (which rhymes with "consummated") and, "Isn't this divine? You’ll open up your own cosmetics line."

Aileen Jacobson
Newsday, May 31st, 1996

... Freyda Thomas’ adaptation infuses the original text with amusing additions -- "Preaching, sir, is not performance art. When God speaks through you, it comes from the heart."

Sydney Weinberg
Time Out, June 5th 1996

This is a free and modern adaptation by Freyda Thomas... and yes it is quite funny... it's a lovely play.

Clive Barnes
New York Post, may 31st 1996

The notion of three setting Molière’s Tartuffe in the deep South, in the studio of a small time cable TV station, would have seemed daunting, if not perfectly foolhardy. As if to make dire straits suicidal, Freyda Thomas wrote her adaptation in rhymed couplets, modeled on those of the author, the classic 17th-century French satirist whose real name was Jean-Baptise Poquelin. Gadzooks, it works. Cleverly retitled Tartuffe: Born Again, Ms. Thomas’ script is crisp, her extreme resetting never jars with the original, whose flavor and lesson are sustained, the performances are spirited... some of Ms. Thomas’ rhymes are dazzling. Not so bad either, is the expressiveness in her script. While the first focus is properly on comedy, an audience that laughs at the character's insistence that "Preaching is not performance art" is an excellence that is getting the point behind the laugh. The result is an ideal transformation of a classic.

Martin Gottfried
New York Law Journal, May 31, 1996