Father Tartuffe: An Indigenous Misadventure A 60s twist on a 350-year old francophone classic

Tartuffe takes the stage in a new yet ever-fraudulent form more than three centuries after the story first shocked and delighted audiences in 17th century France. Adapting the classic tale of a fraudulent holy man who wriggles his way into a bourgeois household for personal benefit, Father Tartuffe: An Indigenous Misadventure sees the titular scoundrel plucked out from 1660s Paris and brought to 1960s Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

Roy Surette | Photo courtesy of Arts Club Theatre Company.

The new adaptation, written by Herbie Barnes and directed by Roy Surette and Quelemia Sparrow, involves the deception of an Indigenous family that has recently come into some money as a result of Expo 67’s bountiful economic opportunities. Surette says the adaptation takes a comedic approach to highlight many cultural conversations affecting Indigenous people today.

“It’s kind of like being a little bit of a fly on the wall for much of the audience,” Surette says. “[There’s] some insights to some of the dilemmas, quandaries and choices that we as a colonial nation have asked our Indigenous population to bear with.”

The show runs from Feb. 22 to March 24 at the Granville Island Stage.

Adapting a classic

Quelemia Sparrow. | Photo courtesy of Arts Club Theatre Company.

When Barnes first asked Surette to direct an Indigenous-focussed adaptation of Tartuffe, Surette agreed immediately. After all, Molière, the playwright behind the original, is Surette’s favourite classical playwright.

But he knew it would be essential to bring in an Indigenous co-director to lead this adaptation, so he asked actor and director Quelemia Sparrow to join alongside him. Surette says that Sparrow already brought much to the show in her acting role, and that her directorial position was even more invaluable in bringing this adaptation to life.

“I thought if we were going to embark on this as a project, it would be really important not to be the sole leader on it as a director, to have an Indigenous co-director,” says Surette. “[Sparrow is] very talented and has a great visual eye as well.”

In the original play, Orgon, the family patriarch, is pushing back against the perceived extravagance of his household and tries to introduce some degree of piety by welcoming in the fraudulent priest Tartuffe. Throughout the piece, the rest of the family tries to open Orgon’s eyes to Tartuffe’s ambitions to dupe the family out of their property and seduce or marry multiple family members.

| Photo courtesy of Arts Club Theatre Company.

In the Indigenous adaptation, Surette says there’s an adapted focus on other modern sociocultural conversations, including land ownership and the relationship between Indigenous people and the church. The family patriarch – renamed Orin – has a more favourable view of the church than much of the rest of his family, but Orin’s family takes issue with this, in no small part, because of the Christian-run residential schools they suffered through.

“There’s some distrust there, but then there [were] also some people in the Indigenous community that sort of embraced Christianity. So Orin’s a bit born-again as a Catholic,” explains Surette. “It’s really about his kind of obsession with this charismatic, kind of creepy but powerful influence on him.”

Other characters are also adapted from the original play for the new context. In Molière’s version, the family members have many differing opinions about extravagance, piety and religion. Meanwhile, the current production highlights differing perspectives around Indigeneity, assimilation, culture, identity and religion within the dynamic societal backdrop of the late 1960s.

But in both cases, Surette says the common thread of distrusting Tartuffe unites the rest of the family together.

“It’s fun to revisit. It’s really interesting to kind of interpret. [Barnes] could have done the original translation and just had Indigenous actors do it, but this is definitely bringing much more about Indigenous culture, values and quandaries that they continue to face all of the time,” he says.

Surette also thinks it’s great to be able to showcase Indigenous perspectives on bigger stages through a lens of comedy. He says many well-received and popular Indigenous plays have a greater focus on drama and that he’s happy to see increasingly more productions like this one as well: stories which thrive on the other side of the emotional spectrum of Indigenous theatre.

“I think it’s a unique project for sure,” says Surette.

For more information on the show, visit www.artsclub.com/shows/2023-2024/father-tartuffe-an-indigenous- misadventure