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THEATER REVIEW / 'TARTUFFE' : Classical Comedy : The enthusiastic young cast handles the modern translation with ease. The opening- day audience was amused.


The Conejo Players are hitting two-for-two, with their continuing run of "The Baby Dance" and their just-opened Conejo Afternoon Theater production of Moliere's "Tartuffe."

So confident is the group that they chose Super Bowl Sunday to open "Tartuffe," evidently in the belief that the audience for professional football, Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson and the audience for 17th-Century French comedy are mutually exclusive. And they may be right.

It's easy to understand why director Gary R. Romm is so enamored with Richard Wilbur's translation and adaptation of the play: The language is modern and easily comprehensible, something that Romm's enthusiastic young cast handles with relative ease. Sunday's audience of people apathetic to the charms of football found it all very amusing.

The story line is simple: Tartuffe has ingratiated himself into the wealthy family, especially impressing Mme. Pernelle and her son, Orgon. The rest of the family aren't so impressed, and the better part of the play details their attempts to expose him as a rogue in cleric's clothing.

"Tartuffe" introduces several new faces to Conejo audiences, including Darren Raleigh as the title character; Tom Stewart Stephens as Orgon; Natalie Holcolmb as Orgon's wife, Elmire; Scott Ryden as Orgon's son, Damis; and Douglas Reese as Valere, one of the play's pair of young lovers. They're all terrific, and a protracted scene featuring Tartuffe, Elmire and Orgon is one of the funniest in recent Conejo Players history. A special nod of acknowledgment is due whomever designed, constructed or found the prop involved in that scene, not to mention the person who came up with the action.

Among the familiar Conejo Players here are Jennifer Simon as the other young lover, Mariane; Aaron Pyle as Orgon's brother-in-law, Cleante; and Mary Lee Hulette as battle-ax Mme. Pernelle. Susan Wiltfang, most recently featured as the "boy" singing "Arkansas" in the company's "Big River," stands out as Mariane's feisty maid. Hers is a very modern interpretation, which doesn't detract a bit.

Wilbur's version of "Tartuffe" is in rhymed verse, which most of the cast manages to handle without sounding singsong; still, the style might strike audiences as more of a parlor trick than a faithful translation.

The fact is, Romm could have ditched the period costumes and staged the show in current times without changing anything significant in the script: France doesn't have a king these days, of course, but there are plenty of other officials who could perform the same function.


"Tartuffe" continues Sundays at 2:30 through Feb. 21 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. All tickets are $5 and available only at show time. For further information, call 495-3715.

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