To experience a fresh, modern translation of this 400+ year old Molière play, performed by a youthful, invigorating company, under nearly athletic direction by Karl Kippola is a treat, and would be as sumptuous as the exquisite costumes by Heather Lockard were it not for the stifling almost irrepressible heat in the Church Street venue. Here’s hoping that ventilation will improve as the summer days get even hotter since all swooning should probably remain on stage as planned and directed rather than be heat-induced.
The essence of the story is as relevant today as then – people will staunchly believe what they want, what they Need to believe and allow themselves to be fooled or “cuckolded,” denying the truth that is right before their eyes.
‘Beware of what you think you know because looks are deceiving’ could be its mantra, and it’s surprising how well the tale holds up in today’s well-heeled, technologically savvy world. In the classic French comedy, Orgon, the master of a well-to-do estate, is so taken in by the supposedly righteous holy man, Tartuffe, that he bequeaths his fortune to him and even throws in his daughter for good measure. Meanwhile, Tartuffe talks humble-pie and spiritual piety, while spewing lechery and debauchery even making lewd advances to Orgon’s wife, Elmire. As the set changes in the second act, where even the small wall paintings are replaced by scrolls of virtuous words and sayings, Tartuffe seems to be unstoppable with a stranglehold on the family, even boasting about being able to “sin with confidence.” When he has captivated all, including the deed to the estate, entrusted to him on blind faith, there seems to be no way for justice to prevail at the eleventh hour for a satisfying resolution. But as with any mystery episode, Molière knows the value of tantalizing conclusions, and does not disappoint– in rhyming iambic pentameter at that.
Sought after actor and musical composer Jesse Terrill is interestingly cast as Tartuffe, and he plays up the dark and devious side of the character with nifty physicality shifting from duplicitous fawning to snarling expressions with ease. While it works for a surface rendition, the performance can come across as a bit shallow and doesn’t go deep enough to capture and express the heart of the character. There’s more to Tartuffe, even an element of charm in the rotten, unscrupulous, conniving scoundrel that explains how he’s duped so many people so fervently. The character is a good match for Terrill’s artistry to explore and will likely deepen with the run of the show.
The rest of the cast is equally up to their tasks. Seasoned actor Steve Beall is an endearing and utterly unflappable Orgon who is intent on turning a blind eye to anything he doesn’t want to see or admit. Also, a powerhouse trio of actresses will make the heat easier to endure, namely, Lindsay Haynes as Elmire with adorable expressions and flashing eyes, trying in vain to prove the extent of the treachery, Jjana Valentiner as quick witted (and ample bosomed) Dorine who brings an organic energetic appeal to the role, and Emily Formica with the voice of an angel who provides the gorgeous vocals for concert-worthy interludes.
Tartuffe rounds out the “Real Life Stories of the Fraudulent Identity Bureau (F.I.B.),” for Journeymen Theater, celebrating its fifth anniversary season and now under new artistic leadership. Here’s hoping that the keeping power of a centuries old classic rubs off on this company to continue presenting high quality productions of integrity for years to come.
by Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur
directed by Karl Kippola
produced by Journeymen Theater
reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
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