Moliere’s References Updated

Kimothy Cruse’s Biography

Corrections or additions?

This feature by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 2, 1998. All rights reserved.

Westwind’s `Tartuffe:’ Moliere in Miami?

This `Tartuffe’ is going to leave no one unoffended,"

Kimothy Cruse tells his cast during a recent rehearsal. Cruse is directing

Moliere’s historic play, "Tartuffe, or The Impostor," for

Westwind Repertory Company. The production opens this Wednesday, September

2, and runs through Saturday, September 12, at the College of New

Jersey’s Kendall Black Box Theater. This is Cruse’s own adaptation

— "liberally adapted," he says, adding, "that’s LIBERALLY

in caps" — of the famous, once notorious, work.

Written by Moliere in 1663, "Tartuffe" began life by offending.

Initially, nobody would touch the play, and the French monarch, King

Louis XIV, would not permit it to be performed. When it was first

was performed in 1664 at the Court of Versailles, it succeeded in

offending all religious factions, from Jesuits to Jansenists, and

was promptly suppressed.

"The play’s not really an attack on the church, it’s an attack

on religious charlatans," Cruse says, but obviously the church

did not see it that way. It was not publicly performed until 1667,

and then, after a single night’s performance, it was again suppressed.

In 1668, Moliere expanded the work from three to five acts, adding

to the range of the play and its characters. In 1669 "Tartuffe"

was staged again, with King Louis’ permission, and has been successfully

performed around the globe ever since. In its original French text,

it is the longest running play presented by La Comedie Francaise in


Westwind producing director Julia Ohm, artistic director Dale Simon,

and guest director Cruse worked together to select the play. It features

Westwind actors Laura Jackson as Elmire, Simon as Orgon, and Alden

Fulcomer as Tartuffe. The young lovers, Mariane and Valere, are played

by Hun students Katie Benincasa and Christian Stanton. Catherine Rowe

plays the pivotal role of Dorine, the maid. "This is not performed

in the style of classical Moliere," Cruse says. "We wanted

to have some fun with it, and we wanted to make it much more contemporary."

Cruse took on the task of adapting the play by first reading every

English translation he could get his hands on.

He has set his production in 1998. In Miami. And Tartuffe looks a

lot like a beach boy. "I chose Miami for its lush, tropical feeling

and sensuality," he says. "It’s a very trendy city, full of

celebrities and retired politicians. So rather than California bashing,

I thought we’d keep it on the east coast." In most stagings of

the play, the appearance of the charlatan Tartuffe is obviously cunning;

he’s a character only a dope would believe. Not here. This Tartuffe,

like many a contemporary villain, is as good looking as they come.

Cruse says he chose the play for its intermingled themes. "While

most people think the play is about a religious hypocrite who’s using

the family and conniving to take all their money," he says, "one

of the recurring themes — which I found so right on for today

— is the power of gossip and innuendo. Every character in the

show talks about somebody else. And there are many references, especially

by Cleante, to gossip, rumor, innuendo, and lies versus truth. I find

it fascinating that, in 1998, it still stands up remarkably well."

"Actually I changed very little, script-wise, from what Moliere

wrote," Cruse says. "All I did was update the names and change

some of the references. As I sat there, I thought, `It’s like he wrote

this two weeks ago!’ The Clinton scandal and all the rest is right

in the script, if you just change the names."

Top Of Page
Moliere’s References Updated

Names are part of the updating process. "Where Cleante

talks about truly pious people, Moliere uses names of people of the

1600s," these were his contemporary references. Cruse has updated

the references to the modern day. "We mention Gandhi, Mother Theresa,

the Dalai Lama, and Shirley MacLaine."

Moliere’s play comes with a contrived, ending, a "deus ex machina"

device that in 17th-century France served both to praise the wisdom

of the king for allowing the play to be produced and served dramatically

to get Orgon out of an impossible situation. Cruse has changed this

a bit, too.

"To make some sense out of the events," he changed the sequence

of the last scene and combined the characters of bailiff and arresting

officer into one modern-day FBI agent. This rewrite "also explains

how the President knew that what Tartuffe had done was illegal,"

says Cruse. "And we managed to get in some Linda Tripp jokes,

so it all makes perfect sense."

"In updating the play and dealing with the goings on in our government

today — who has the attache case, and what’s in the attache case

— it just sort of played right into my hands," he says. "Take

Dorine, the maid, who also has the biggest part in the play. She’s

the voice of wisdom, but also stirs a lot up. I figured, we’re putting

it in Miami in 1998, in a rich political family, so let’s give them

a Cuban maid who perhaps doesn’t have working papers. She’s not given

credit for the brains she has, she knows everything that’s going on

in the family, and she helps them work it all out."

"There’s also the scene — which is classic French theater

— between Dorine, the father, Orgon, and his daughter Mariane,

where Dorine keeps interrupting. The way it’s done in classic theater

is that Orgon keeps trying to hit his daughter, but that really bothered

me. In 1998 it’s not funny. So we’ve found another way to play the

scene with the same sort of intent," he says.

Cruse, 47, was born in New York, lived there until he was about nine;

then the family moved to New Jersey. An only child, his mother had

her own craft business; his father is now a retired chemist. And how

did he come by his unusual name, Kimothy? His mother was German-Irish

and his father was German-Welsh, he tells us. His mother liked the

name Timothy, but his father said, "That’s such an Irish name!"

So his aunt found an old baby book and discovered "Kimothy"

as the Welsh variant of Timothy.

He attended Boston University and completed his MFA at the New School.

Over the years Cruse has "picked up a few best director awards

from various drama critics associations," he says with a modest

laugh. In the early 1980s he directed a lot of theater in Kansas City,

but has never lived there. He’d just, "job in and do a show."

Cruse spent 12 years in California before returning to New Jersey

four years ago. "I had just finished working for three years in

a job I hated in a television studio in L.A.," he says. "Now

here I am." Cruse lives in Hopewell, and directing is his fulltime


Top Of Page
Kimothy Cruse’s Biography

No one else in the family is in theater. "I’m the black sheep

of the whole family," Cruse says, with a laugh. He also co-directed

"Love! Valour! Compassion!" with Julia Ohm for the Black Sheep

Theater Company, a show in which he also acted. But he says he would

rather not act when he can direct.

Cruse started acting professionally as a child of eight or nine. By

14 or 15 he decided he didn’t want to be an actor for the rest of

his life. When he entered BU, he thought he wanted to be a set designer,

so he was a design major. After a semester, someone asked him to direct

a workshop. Within months, and with the support of the dean of the

fine arts school, he changed his major to directing, "and I haven’t

stopped since."

But the outside world can be tougher. After coming to New York to

finish his degree, Cruse sent out 25 letters, and got 23 responses.

He did a workshop with Mike Nichols and was assistant director to

Austin Pendleton who was directing Ibsen’s "Little Eyolf."

He worked with Pendleton on other shows, and was his associate director

for the Broadway production of "The Little Foxes." "I

got the best education by working with good directors," he says.

But Tartuffe in Miami in 1998? "This is not a traditional production,

but it’s a production that speaks to audiences of the day and is done

totally in the spirit of Moliere as far as comedy and the play’s satirical

spirit is concerned — poking needles where they need to be poked,"

says Cruse.

Theatergoers are calling Westwind "the best kept secret in town."

Almost every production I have attended has been excellent, including

the recent "Twelfth Night," performed outdoors at Hun, on

a barren terrace with no scenery and only minimal props. It was a

banquet of Shakespeare’s words and actors’ concentration.

So, yes, Tartuffe in Miami sounds just right.

— Joan Crespi

Tartuffe, Westwind Repertory, College of New Jersey,

Kendall Theater, 609-406-1154. $12. Wednesday, September 2, to

Saturday, September 12, at 8 p.m.

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