Tartuffe: Born Again (Raleigh Little Theatre, Sept. 20-Oct. 6) is a hilarious modern-English verse translation of 17th-century French dramatist Molière’s sublime satire of religious hypocrisy. Translator/adapter Freyda Thomas’ imaginative adaptation of Tartuffe keeps the dialogue in verse–in rhymed couplets–and she skillfully transposes the story to the present age and makes Tartuffe a deposed born-again televangelist a la Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart.

Consumed by greed–and lust–and burdened with an ill-fitting hairpiece that makes him look like some kind of oily small animal has curled up and died on his bald spot, the wily Tartuffe (Fred Corlett) shamelessly manipulates the sanctimonious Orgon (Phil Crone) and his self-righteous mother, Mrs. Pernell (Helen Crisp), owners and operators of a Baton Rouge, La. television studio.

While plotting his comeback to the national air waves, Tartuffe blatantly propositions Orgon’s pretty young second wife Elmire (Morissa Nagel), much to her consternation. Meanwhile, Orgon’s brother Cleante (David Britt) is keeping a suspicious eye on Tartuffe.

Fred Corlett is a hoot as the religious charlatan Tartuffe, Phil Crone gives a highly amusing performance as the hopelessly obtuse Orgon, Morissa Nagel is a scream as the indignant Elmire, and David Britt is a delight as the sharp-tongued Cleante. But Amy Flynn steals with show with her monkeyshines as Orgon’s big-haired and blunt-spoken floor manager Dorine.

Helen Crisp contributes a nice cameo as the ultra-religious Mrs. Pernell. Ann Cole, Scott Franco, and Aaron Dunlap are good as Orgon’s lovely daughter Mary Ann, her impetuous boyfriend Valere, and Orgon’s volatile son Damis, respectively. And Mark Aman and Barbette Hunter acquit themselves very well, indeed, as Agent Loyal and Ms. De Salle.

Guest director Martin Thompson stages the show superbly, with his usual style and wit and taste, on a detailed multilevel TV studio set designed by Rick Young. Costume designer Sue Brace’s colorful outfits for this motley crew and lighting designer Andy Parks’ artful illumination of the madcap proceedings also add to the show’s visual appeal.

Clergymen with feet of clay have been popular fodder for the satirical grist mills of dramatists for centuries. Tartuffe: Born Again by Freyda Thomas is a lively update of a controversial comic masterpiece by Molière (1622-73). Such inspired lunacy as the current RLT presentation produces deserves to play to packed houses. Buy your tickets today!

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Tartuffe: Born Again Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 6, at 3 p.m. in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St. $13. 010/821-3111. http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/tartuffe.htm [inactive 7/1/03].