BWW Reviews: Westport's Intelligent TARTUFFE, Now thru 8/4
Hypocrisy has always existed and always will, and perhaps no play has ever captured it better than Molière’s classic comedy, Tartuffe. David Kennedy directed this play vividly with Richard Wilbur’s virtually perfect translation and a superb cast at The Westport Country Playhouse.
Everyone who has attended The Westport Country Playhouse productions expects a first-rate production and something fresh, even in a show that’s a tried and true crowd-pleaser, such as Tartuffe. The play, written in rhyming couplets, is about how one rich man is the only member of his household to be fooled by a vagrant pious fraud. In this production, Mark Nelson portrays Orgon with dignity and gravitas, so it is hard to dismiss him as a fool who blindly idolizes Tartuffe (played by Marc Kudisch). Orgon is not an aristocrat, but part of the well-to-do bourgeoisie of 17th century France. He is intelligent and he knows how to connect with the right people, but he let himself be fooled by Tartuffe, just as highly educated investors and investment officers were duped by Bernie Madoff. In this context, Kudisch’s composure and his pleasant, silvery speaking voice make him thoroughly convincing as the charismatic impostor. No two actors could balance each other better in these two roles.
Jeanine Serralles is in fine form as the cheeky maid, Dorine, but she still has some room to go a bit further with the role. Dorine is not a stock simple character who dispenses wisdom to the master and mistress of the house. She runs that household and she can make that entire stage her territory and dominate her superiors. Nadia Bowers is delightful as Orgon’s wife, Elmire. Patricia Connelly as Madame Pernelle’s, Orgon’s self-righteous mother, Justin Adams as Damis, Orgon’s confrontational son, and Tyrone Mitchell Henderon as Cléante, Elmire’s rational brother give solid performances. Charise Castro Smith gave Orgon’s daughter, Mariane, some backbone, but she is undermined by the costume she wears, which make her look like a 12-year-old.
Which brings us to Ilona Somogyi’s costumes. They are hit or miss, with a wide spectrum of what is modern attire. The men fare better, but some of the women’s costumes are outright distracting. Sorry, but knee high trouser socks are meant for dressy pants, not dresses. The costumes also look as if they are of inferior quality, something that just doesn’t seem right for the family of someone who is so fabulously rich.
Wilson Chin’s scenic design ranks among the most original and interesting sets ever seen at The Westport Country Playhouse. The curtain shows a black and white drawing of 17th century Paris. When the curtain rises, the audience sees that image upside down in Orgon’s house, which is otherwise decorated in restrained elegance. There is a wonderful treat behind the many doors at the end of the play.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through August 4. Call (888) 927-752 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.