ByMolière, translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Charlie Sexton
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Alec Elmore, Field Oldham & Frances Rippy in Tartuffe. Photo courtesy Commonwealth Theatre Center.
When, in the director’s notes, Charlie Sexton states, “Tartuffe is not simply a bigot; he is a con man with a long criminal record,” he is clearly alluding to current events. How closely the parallel might be drawn to the 2016 Presidential campaign can be debated, but the satire of Molière’s most famous play remains as relevant today as when it was written in 1664.
It is interesting that Tartuffe himself does not enter until quite late in act one. We hear about him from Orgon (Chase Bishop), who has become platonically infatuated with him, influenced greatly by his domineering mother, Madame Pernelle (Kate Barnett) but not his wife, Elmire (Frances Rippy). He greatly distresses his daughter, Mariane (Makayla Roth) by promising her in marriage to Tartuffe, even though she is in love with Valere (Will DeVary). Tartuffe is known for his piety and rejection of materialism, yet the plot also includes a real estate scam that is nearly the ruin of Orgon.
Molière is largely spoken; with nary a moment of quiet, and the actors hit the stage in this preview performance chewing through the dense verbiage at a furious pace, rushing headlong through the scenes at a breathless tempo that shortcuts the nuance of the text. One they slowed down a bit and took a breath, their attention to detail and the more subtle aspects of the story became apparent. It was good work, albeit still a bit overplayed throughout. Moliere lends itself to physical comedy and some exaggeration, such as the seduction scene, which fairly demands it, and the ensemble earned good laughs throughout. The seduction scene was a highpoint, the moment where a sound balance of the slapstick and verbal wit was struck.
The master farceur develops his plot with logic and good sense until the end, when he employs a veritable Deus ex machine to wrap things up. Tartuffe is a bit of a buffoon, and it is crucial that how deeply his supporters are in his thrall is firmly established as the play opens. The economy of the script begins with how we are immediately thrust into the conflict with no preamble, so that we are spared scenes of Tartuffe bamboozling his victims. Something we are not spared in any real life counterparts.
Alec Elmore plays the title role in a supercilious manner that makes sense of the slapstick, evoking an archetype essayed by great comic actors dating back to silent movies. His late entry into the action is when the onstage energy start to gel. Frances Rippy was a splendid Elmire, one of the more restrained performances of the night, grounding her scenes with sense and delicacy. Chase Bishop overplayed at times, but he also fashioned an Orgon that felt a progenitor for every earnest but befuddled, good-natured father in the long theatrical history that came after. Bailey Lomax did well by Dorine, the impudent Maid to Mariane, sharp but never too showy with a role that is an invitation to steal every scene. I also liked Makayla Roth’s tremulous Marianne. Will DeVary was fine in the smaller role of Valere. The remaining cast does creditable work with the rich dialogue.
Part of the satire is witnessing the less-than-honorable behavior played out in 16th century finery. Laura Patterson’s costumes are indeed resplendent, and Tartuffe’s silly fancy trousers peeking out from under his puritanical black frock is a tidy definition of the character’s hypocrisy.
Whatever awareness of contemporary relevancy director Sexton may see, he doesn’t impose his vision onto the audience. Rather, he plays it straight and invites the audience to explore the themes for themselves.
September 22 – October 1, 2016
Tickets – Evenings:
$15 adult, $10 student/senior
Matinees (Saturdays and Sundays):
$10 adult, $8 student/senior
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.