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Interview: Lucie Tiberghien on Directing 'Tartuffe'

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Interview: Lucie Tiberghien on Directing 'Tartuffe'

25 June, 2020

Crises can spark ingenuity, and some theater companies have circumvented the current virus epidemic by presenting their performances electronically while maintaining social distancing.  Interestingly, these virtual productions have actually dramatically increased access to the performances which would have otherwise been presented non-electronically.

Molière in the Park (MIP), a theater company based in Brooklyn, New York, will be live streaming performances of Molière’s comedy Tartuffe this Saturday June 27 at 2 PM EST and 7 PM EST. The classic social satire centers on a man of dubious morals who insinuates himself into a prominent family by posing as a religious devotee.  

The production features a talented cast including four-time Tony Award nominee and Obie Award winner Raúl E. Esparza who performs the title character, Samira Wiley (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black), Kaliswa Brewster (Showtime’s Billions, ABC’s Time after Time) and Rosemary Prinz  (CBS’s As the World Turns). The translation of the original French text is by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Wilbur.

Viewing of the productions is free. For more information and to reserve access to the performances log on to https://www.moliereinthepark.org/.

A recording of the stream will be available on MIP’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/moliereinthepark) through Wednesday, July 1 at 2:00 PM EST. 

ScreenPicks' Paul Hansen posed some questions to Lucie Tiberghien who is directing this production of Tartuffe and is the Founding Artistic Director of Molière in the Park.  

Q. What was the impetus for scheduling a production of Tartuffe for this summer?  Are there themes in the play that you think are particularly relevant to today's society?

Lucie Tiberghien: Yes, there is definitely a central theme in the play that feels relevant to this time in our history, and in the US in particular. That is the theme of religious hypocrisy. Since the election of Trump, I have been baffled and increasingly appalled by the support of the religious right that this president benefits from and by their silence. Trump is a man, who if nothing else, has been established as a compulsive liar and a womanizer, and who is the epitome, in my view, of selfishness, egotism and corruption. How that is not in direct contradiction with basic religious precepts is entirely beyond comprehension and disturbing. It deserves condemnation. So, we chose to do this play with that sentiment in mind, and then Trump gave us a perfect marketing opportunity with his Bible brandishing photo op.

Q. Can you give us some background on how this production was cast?

Tiberghien: It is part of our mission and fundamental to everything we do, to offer inclusive productions of Molière's plays. It is vital to us to tell these stories in a variety of ways, casting across race and gender. Also, I grew up in France, and at the time, Molière was exclusively done by white actors, and I think for the most part it’s still the case now. Why is that? It’s just not representative of who we are as a society. Garth Belcon, MIP’s co-founding producer, and I discussed Tartuffe, and it became clear that it was more interesting and resonant to us, and hopefully, our audience, if the family at the heart of this play was predominantly black. We also wanted to subvert gender expectations and stereotypes, and thankfully Samira and Naomi, who are both playing characters initially written for men, shared that interest.

Q. Do you think that the steps that theater companies have made to present their productions electronically in response to the pandemic might continue in some form after the pandemic is over and that these "virtual" productions have actually expanded accessibility of theater?  

Tiberghien: It’s been exciting to work with a team of designers, animators and software programmers to create a new performative language. Thanks to Andrew Carluccio, who’s continuously evolving software we are using, we are able to present a show with live performances and live editing, that incorporates animation, is highly designed and feels very theatrical. It’s too soon to tell if once the pandemic is over we will give up on this new form of theater, but somehow I doubt it, because as you suggest, the accessibility of these shows is huge, and that’s truly wonderful.

Q. Shakespeare is, of course, another playwright that is perennially scheduled for summer festivals. Do you have any thoughts on the similarities and differences of Molière and Shakespeare as playwrights?

Tiberghien: I’m so NOT a Shakespeare expert! In fact, I’ve never directed a Shakespeare play. I’d love to. And if I had, I would be able to answer this question in more detail. Molière’s concern is first and foremost people -- all kinds of people -- and how they handle the challenges of everyday life. His plays are character studies, and in that sense, they are extremely intimate. They are also satires, sometimes farces -- always driven by comedy -- yet their motive is ambitious and serious. They are an attempt to examine, shed light on, and often condemn behaviors which Moliere found pervasive and dangerous back in 17th century France and which, I think it’s fair to say, still are today. In that sense, revisiting them today, in 2020 Brooklyn, with an eye towards bringing forth their political and critical undertones, has been at the heart of MIP’s vision since our inception.

Q. Is there anything in general that you would like to tell audiences about this production of Tartuffe?

Tiberghien: Samira Wiley’s performance as the deluded patriarch Orgon, and Raul Esparza’s as the manipulative Bible-touting Tartuffe, as well as the entire cast, are not to be missed. They are all phenomenal, and I believe the technical/visual aspects of this show will be quite surprising to an audience expecting a “reading on Zoom.”

Q. Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Tiberghien: We are hoping to be able to present a live performance in the park this fall. But if that is not possible we will most likely produce another online show, and who knows, maybe it won’t be Molière? Despite our name, we do not intend to exclusively produce Molière plays, and while we hadn’t planned on taking that step this early in our life as a company, we certainly hear the calls for social justice and equality on the streets, and everywhere around us, and feel compelled to respond actively by supporting these calls and being, in our own way, an agent for much needed and overdue change.

[Photo credit of Lucie Tiberghien: Photographer Jennifer Mudge]