A Marriage of Opposites

If you combined a 17th-century religious satire with a 20th-century musical about the angst of parenting, you would come up with Festival Rep 2000. This year Florida Atlantic University's annual repertory theater festival pairs Molière's timeless play Tartuffe with Sybille Pearson's short-lived 1983 Broadway musical, Baby.

"We have to keep the summer light," says Jean-Louis Baldet, the FAU theater department chairman who doubles as Festival Rep artistic director. He has his hands full overseeing the mix of theater students and Equity actors who come together for a professional-seeming production each summer at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts.

Festival Rep was born in 1997, when the university was trying to find ways to expand its public cultural offerings and the Broward Center was looking for summer productions. Initially the FAU theater department chose to produce theater classics. The first summer's bill featured Twelfth Night, Yentl, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. By 1999, however, producers had opted for shows with broader box-office appeal, choosing The Rocky Horror Show and The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, a spoof of 1940s detective mysteries.

Wanting to return to a diet of top-drawer theater pieces, Baldet this year chose Tartuffe, Molière's comedy about a family that takes in a charismatic religious leader without realizing that the guy is a fraud. One reason the play has had a 300-year shelf life is that its themes of hypocrisy and human vanity remain as pertinent as ever. Rather than update it to our time, Baldet is leaving the play in its original 17th-century setting, partly because it gives his actors a chance to do "three or four elaborate costume changes."

The script is also actor-friendly. Baldet is using a translation written especially for the Royal Shakespeare Company, that favors a broad array of acting choices rather than one that emphasizes Molière's poetry. "It's written with an eye and an ear towards lively interplay, with sharp and quick dialogue that allows for a lot of verbal and sight gags," says Baldet. "The audience won't remember it as just a lovely piece of culture."

While Tartuffe is bawdy and biting, Baby provides gentler family entertainment. The show, with music and lyrics by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr. (the team who went on to create Big), follows three couples who discover they're expecting a child -- each at a different stage in their relationship. The musical's appeal, says Baldet, is that almost everyone can identify with its characters' dilemma or will someday: "It's about all the complications and the process of having children and how it affects people. For the couple in their twenties, it's all panic, and it costs money. In your thirties you're worried about your career. In your forties you think, I'm beyond this. There's never a good time." Which means, Baldet points out, that there's plenty to sing about.