Perisphere Theater refreshes Molière’s classic Tartuffe with a skilled and playful cast. But you need be patient. The show digs itself a very deep hole in its first full scene, exhibiting most of its flaws well before it gets charming.
Madame Pernelle (Tiffany Garfinkle), elderly mother of the patriarch Orgon, defends the honor of Tartuffe, an indigent preacher who others accuse of using false piety to sucker Orgon out of his money. She takes the audience on a laborious tour of the cast and their circumstances, and it drags terribly.
Nearly the entire cast, in a mixed style of period costumes, stands around awaiting their cues with very little business. Damis (Matt Meyers) and Cléante (Patrick M. Doneghy) wear modern clothes, except for peculiar neckruffles. Orgon’s wife, Elmire (Heather Benjamin), is chided for her extravagant clothes, yet costume designer Randi Young has her in a simple Renaissance Festival dress. When we finally meet Orgon (Steve Lebens) and Tartuffe (Jonathan M. Rizzardi), they’re wearing period clothes with much more specificity; Orgon is decidedly French (He’s alone in this until Officer (Eric Cline) enters at the end of the play).
It is a weak and confused start, but fortunately the production makes the turn to hilarious and playful in succeeding scenes. Director Bridget Grace Sheaff and sound designer Niusha Nawab sprinkle dramatic musical cues throughout the play, giving the cast an easy tool to break down the fourth wall.
Young lovers Mariane (Amber James) and Valère (Erik Harrison) have a stand-out scene with Dorine (Jasmine Jones), the housemaid. Both are far too proud to admit they are hurt when the other is far too cowardly to stand up to the brainwashed Orgon’s tyranny, while Dorine makes the absolute most of every line with bold choices.
At last, Rizzardi as Tartuffe, another big point in this production’s favor, takes Wilbur’s verse and runs with it! He nails the “always on” performance of the slimeball villain with great skill, and brings the show to life by exploring the set and his own physicality.
closes February 4, 2018
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The entire cast has a good grasp on the language, but inconsistent direction means the show often falters when the comedy could be building. Cléante and Tartuffe’s chess game could be hilarious with the energy supplied by Dorine , but instead it seems pulled from a drama. Lebens’s Orgon is every bit the hot-heated buffoon he needs to be, but hits the same maximum level of shock over and over no matter what prompted it, leaving none of the room that the lovers had when they hilariously upped the ante over the course of their scene.
But when the show is at its best, which is often enough, it is hilarious. A playful cast exploring opportunities to break from the script actually serve Molière better! If you are a fan of the master satirist, Perisphere Theater’s production will definitely get you laughing.
Tartuffe by Molière. Translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Bridget Grace Sheaff. Performed by Patrick M. Doneghy, Matt Meyes, Jasmine Jones, Heather Benjamin, Eric Cline, Amber James, Steve Lebens, Tiffany Garfinkle, Jonathan M. Rizzardi, and Erik Harrison. Set design by Dean Leong. Lighting design by E-hui Woo. Costume design by Randi Young. Sound design by Niusha Nawab. Stage managed by Caelan Tietze. Produced by Heather Benjamin and Perisphere Theater. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.