Staged by UCO’s Theater Arts Department, the play tells the story of the seemingly pious Tartuffe. He’s invited to live in the home of Orgon, who wants his family to enjoy the blessings of Tartuffe’s saintly influence. In reality, Tartuffe manipulates and lies to justify his ill intent.
Mooney first immersed himself in the work of Molière while serving as an assistant director on a production of “Tartuffe” in Seattle, and found himself fascinated by its timeless quality. “I found myself giving extensive thought to what makes this play tick” he said. “The conflict and the human desires that Molière captured were at once both immediate and eternal. You don’t expect to attend a 17th-century play and see your own feelings, experiences, desires … your own life up there onstage. But there it is. People were thinking the same things that you are thinking now more than 300 years ago!” Ten years passed before he tried his hand adapting “Tartuffe” while running a Chicago theater company.
“I had begun playing around with versification. I wanted to see if my own new-found verbal talents could stand up to the work of this amazing play,” he said. “I was startled by the results. Most translators come from a French-language background and are very reverent about capturing the closest word to Molière’s original.”
Mooney used wordplay, contemporary jokes and the occasional anachronism to re-create the impact of each individual gag in the original. He later created a one-man play highlighting Molière’s catalog, titled “Molière Than Thou,” which he has taken on tour for a decade.
Unlike Mooney, Molière struggled throughout his career; his work put him at odds with the church and patrons, at a time in which being an actor was considered sinful.
There is barely a second not filled with fun.
“The public was largely illiterate and would have depended on the public forum for information, which comes down, largely, to the church and the theater,” Mooney said. “And the church did not appreciate the theater encroaching on their privilege from its secular point of view. As a result, ‘Tartuffe’ was banned for five years.”
Mooney said he’s had a blast working on “Tartuffe” at UCO, and that students and faculty have been wonderfully receptive to his vision.
“The actors have thrown themselves over to these characters, and have been rigorous in their discipline to get the memorization, the timing and the choreography of this play down precisely, working this play up into a delicious, fluffy delight,” he said. “There is barely a second of action that is not filled with fun.”