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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."
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
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
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,"
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
Kendall Theater, 609-406-1154. $12. Wednesday, September 2, to
Saturday, September 12, at 8 p.m.
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