TARTUFFE: Born Again, Cenacle Theatre Company, at the Pilsen Arts Center. As long as there are hypocrites like Tartuffe in this world–and they show no sign of disappearing–Moliere’s tale of piety for profit will remain timely. But Freyda Thomas makes even more immediate the threat posed by those who would use religion for personal gain by setting her adaptation of the 1664 satire in contemporary Baton Rouge, where an amen-snorting con artist schemes to bamboozle an affluent citizen into financing his television campaign.
The well-crafted, refreshingly unacademic text, which combines 17th-century rhymed couplets with modern slang and Louisiana colloquialisms–including a smattering of Creole and Cajun French–presents a challenge to the young Cenacle Theatre Company. But in John Reynolds’s staging, the cast’s effervescent dialogue, broad characterizations, and nimble physical comedy have a vigor and exuberance that could easily spin out of control but never quite do. And if Jim Spencer’s Tartuffe is a bit too cute initially, his sermon–delivered directly to the audience–reveals how readily we can be gulled by oratory. As Cleante, the play’s raisonneur, cautions his kinsmen, “You’re safe–until another Tartuffe is born again.”
–Mary Shen Barnidge