Review: “Tartuffe the Imposter” by Molière at Shakespeare & Company
by Roseann Cane
Tartuffe the Imposter, in a new verse version by Constance Congdon, from a new translation by Virginia Scott
Directed by Gina Kaufmann
Music by Luke Daniel Reed
First performed in Versailles in 1664, Molière’s Tartuffe, ou l’Imposteur created quite an uproar. King Louis XIV admired this satire of upper-class hypocrisy, but the Church took offense at what its dignitaries perceived to be a mockery of religion. The Archbishop of Paris declared he would excommunicate anyone who acted in, read, or saw the play. Unrelenting pressure from the Church moved the King to ban public performances for the next five years.
As you may have gathered, Tartuffe’s message remains as timely today as it was nearly 350 years ago.
Tartuffe the Imposter is the tale of a family nearly blown apart by Tartuffe (Douglas Seldin), a vagrant posing as a holy man with a penchant for self-flagellation—literal self-flagellation, that is. Seldin, clad as a beggar, works the audience before the top of the play, beseeching individual audience members with mawkish sighs while whacking himself delicately with a cat o’ nine tails. Seldin is a stitch, perfectly unctuous and smarmy.
We soon discover that Tartuffe has ingratiated himself to the wealthy and clueless Orgon (a hilariously bombastic Jake Berger) and his equally gullible mother, Madame Pernelle (played with delightfully skewed self-righteousness by Joan Coombs). The other members of the household, including Orgon’s wife Elmire (Caitlin Kraft), daughter Marianne (Monica Giordano), and son Damis (played with terrific energy by Gregory Boover), as well as Marianne’s fiance Valère (a strong Sam Perry), see through Tartuffe, but their complaints seem only to strengthen Orgon’s attachment to him.
Emily Ehlinger plays the savviest member of this tumultuous household, the servant Dorine. Her effervescent, loopy portrayal brings to mind Megan Mullally with a suggestion of Lucille Ball. Ehlinger’s the real live-wire of the bunch, brisk and spontaneous, a first-rate physical comedienne. She’s a driving force in this show which, although just 80 minutes, seemed to drag uncomfortably during several scenes. Director Gina Kaufmann, who, with composer Luke Reed, transformed the five-act play into a 1960′s-inspired musical, cast the production, or perhaps directed it, a bit unevenly. At times I felt as if Giordano and Kraft were not as seasoned as their fellow players, or not yet up to the demands of fast-moving comedy. Giordano is terribly earnest, creating a character who juxtaposes awkwardly with the surrounding hijinks. Kraft struck me as rather contained, and in a seduction scene that could have been uproarious, she seemed self-conscious and held back; as a result, the scene became tedious.
But for the most part Kaufmann has done a smashing job. Conor Moroney delivers a top-drawer Cleante. Colin Gold, Luke Reed, and Brianna Sloane complete the cast nicely. The show bristles with fun more often than not, and it’s a skillful paring down of Constance Congdon’s excellent new verse translation. While I didn’t leave humming Reed’s 1960s-flashback music, it worked well, boosting the silliness.
And BRAVA to Meredith Wilcox for those trippy costumes! The entire cast was decked out in apparel I can only describe as a psychedelic homage to the ’60s–the 1660s, that is. The brilliant array of greens, yellows, purples, pinks, and tie-dyes, wittily enhanced by sashes, handbags, eyeglasses, and other wacky accoutrements, was an utter joy to behold.
The Rose Footprint Theatre is a sweet venue on the lovely Shakespeare & Company campus. Most of the seats are metal and plastic folding chairs; if, like me, you have a bad back, consider bringing a cushion. As with any outdoor theater, of course, it can get very warm on a summer’s evening, but thanks to the tent that encloses it, you needn’t worry about rain. A number of wriggly small children were in the audience when I attended, and I was charmed by the impromptu reactions of some of the actors, and how they skillfully managed to keep the kids engaged. What a fine way to introduce the little ones to the magic of live theater! Because of its rare ability to speak to all ages, Tartuffe the Imposter makes for a delightful family outing. It runs through August 25th.
Link: Shakespeare & Company http://www.shakespeare.org/
At a Glance:
PRODUCTION: Tartuffe the Imposter
THEATRE: Rose Footprint Theatre
ADAPTOR: Constance Congdon
DIRECTOR: Gina Kaufmann
MUSIC DIRECTOR/COMPOSER: Luke Reed
CAST: Jake Berger, Greg Boover, Joan Combs, Emily Ehlinger, Colin Gold, Monica Giordano, Caitlin Kraft, Conor Moroney, Sam Perry, Luke Reed, Douglas Seldin, and Brianna Sloane
COSTUME DESIGNER: Meredith Wilcox
WARDROBE: Margaret Koerber
STAGE MANAGER: Jessie Earl
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 6:00 (Preview)
Sunday, July 1, 2012 6:00 (Preview)
Thursday, July 5, 2012 6:00 (Preview)
Friday, July 6, 2012 6:00 (Preview)
Saturday, July 7, 2012 6:00 (Press Opening)
Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:00
Friday, July 13, 2012 6:00
Saturday, July 14, 2012 4:00
Saturday, July 21, 2012 5:30
Sunday, July 22, 2012 4:00
Saturday, July 28, 2012 6:30
Sunday, July 29, 2012 4:00
Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:00
Friday, August 3, 2012 4:00
Saturday, August 4, 2012 4:00
Thursday, August 9, 2012 4:00
Friday, August 10, 2012 4:00
Saturday, August 11, 2012 4:00
Thursday, August 16, 2012 4:00
Saturday, August 18, 2012 4:00
Thursday, August 23, 2012 5:30
Friday, August 24, 2012 5:30
Saturday, August 25, 2012 5:30 (Closing Performance)