Clowning Around: UVU Theatre Arts presents a unique take on “Tartuffe”

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The last thing that anyone expects at the theatre is an actor announcing that there will be no dialogue in the performance about to take place. But that is exactly what theatre-goers experienced this weekend in the UVU courtyard.

Director Cleveland McKay Nicoll had the idea to incorporate clowning into the UVU Theatre Arts production of “Tartuffe,” which opened Thursday, Sept. 6th. “Tartuffe” is one of the most famous works by French playwright Moliere. It first premiered in France in 1664 and has since been performed all over the world and translated into nearly every language.

When family patriarch Orgon (Becca Ashton) becomes devoted to pious fraud Tartuffe (Wade Robert Johnson), his family is sent into a frenzy. Between being promised to Orgon’s daughter Mariane (Kat Hawley) yet still making advances towards his wife (McKell Peterson), Tartuffe makes himself unwelcome at every turn to everyone except Orgon. The family devises a plot to expose the imposter and regain a sense of normalcy, with comical results.

This play was this semester’s president’s show. The president’s show kicks off the Theatre Arts season every fall; it is selected by the president of the school and is usually a classical piece. It is also performed outdoors in the UVU courtyard, where dialogue can be difficult to hear. Because of this challenge, Nicoll wanted to make “Tartuffe” as universally understood as possible. The best way to do that, he decided, was to take out the dialogue and focus on the physicality clowning brings to a production.

“[You wouldn’t] miss what the actors are saying, because they wouldn’t be saying anything,” Nicoll said. “Physical humor is timeless and universal. Clowning is about us as humans, and so its reach is much more all-encompassing.” In a note the director included in the show program, he stated that he “wanted to do something simple that could be enjoyed by all.”

The team spent three weeks in rehearsals focusing on discovering their clown personas and becoming comfortable with the physical demands. True to their word, the actors did not speak while performing, instead using movement and physical humor to convey the plot. During the performance, they frequently ran among the audience and demanded their participation, making the production an interactive and hilarious experience.

“I was definitely not expecting clowns when I came to see the show,” said UVU student Jeffica Prout. Fellow student Blaine Rizzo agreed and said, “They did a great job with the storyline, though. It was easy to follow.”

This production was truly unique. Nicoll said, “[it] was about an exploration of performance art that hasn’t been touched on here at UVU, in production or in the classroom.”

“Tartuffe” has three more performances before closing. See it September 10-12 at 5pm in the courtyard outside the Sorenson Center. Tickets are $3 for students and $5 general admission.