Moliere wrote "Tartuffe" for the Court of Louis IV and caused a mighty flurry from the king's clerics with its stinging satire of hypocrisy in the priesthood. In fact, the clerics got it banned for about five years.
Now, more than 300 years later, the sting is still there. For that wretched creepd of a fake spiritualist, Tartuffe, is of a breed that has hardly gone away. As long as people are gullible to phony spiritualism, the Tartuffes and Rasputins and Elmer Gantrys will have plenty of business.
This play is Moliere at his most brilliant, and at his most stageworthy, as audiences at Montgomery County's Round House Theater will discover between now and Feb. 3.
It was a real service for these players, part of the county government's Street 70 Arts Program, to take on Moliere during the first season in their new theater. For some reason, his many plays are not performed here as much as his lofty reputation would seem to demand.
One exception was the Royal Shakespeare Theater's brilliant staging of "The Misanthrope" at the Kennedy Center with Alec McCowen and Diana Rigg. Perhaps such virtuosity discourages others from trying.
But the company at the Round House was undaunted. Don't expect the Comedie Francaise. But the level of competence is respectable, with the strongest portrayal in the role that matters most -- that cunning, lecherous, greedy and hilarious imposter, Tartuffe.
Jerry Whiddon's pacing and irony move along Deftly as he characterizes the multitude of twists and turns by which Tartuffe eludes the efforts to expose his frauds.
Also, Gayle Behrman is particularly bright as the maid Dorine, who is inventive at getting off the hook the family that Tartuffe has infiltrated and is trying to take over.
As Orgon, the head of the house, Edward Trotta is disappointingly tame. Even though Orgon is a weak man, he should be more tempestuous than this.
June Allen directs the Miles Malleson version, which depends less on rhymed couplets than on the more daring Richard Wilbur translation.
One special advantage of hearing "Tartuffe" in a 200-seat theater is that there is no misunderstanding Moliere's rippling dialogue.
This is not a "Tartuffe" to travel thousands of miles to see. But it is indeed worth the attention of local theatergoers who have never seen this delectable classic.
The show runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. In addition there will be morning shows for high school students and senior citizens Jan. 30, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.