BWW Review: TARTUFFE at UD REP Ensemble
In a video promoting UD Rep Ensemble's TARTUFFE, Mic Matarrese, who plays the title character in this 17th century farce by Moliere, emphasized that references to contemporary politics were to be downplayed. They were. However, with every pious pronouncement spewing from this fictional hypocrite, my mind drew parallels to the duplicity and false morality of our orange Commander In Chief.
So, as not to take away from this majestic production, Aisle Say will now quit his soapbox. I have always considered it a privilege to sit in The Thompson Theatre in the Roselle Center for the Arts.
Unconditional attention to detail has always been a signature of UD Rep. The audience is first met with the towering 17th century set dominated by a wooden switch-back staircase rising 3 stories. On the various landings there are almost as many doors as in a production of NOISES OFF. They soon will be employed for frenzied comic effect. (Note: In the theatre lobby there is a fascinating time lapse video of its construction). This scenic masterpiece is the work of Hugh Landwehr, whose Broadway credits include FROZEN.
Reviewers generally do not comment on wigs unless they are insanely faux. The wigs in this production are so lifelike that one would think they are the actors' genuine manes.
Period costumes by Fabio Toblini are magnificent. The fabrics selected shimmer in the light. The high heeled shoes for both the men and women reflect the court of Louis XIV. And speaking of shimmering and reflecting, there was a morning scene in Act II that lighting designer Matthew Richards nailed. The light coming through the 3rd story window on SR was as real as that which greets you at daybreak.
The entire play is in rhyming couplets. It takes no time for the audience to get in the flow. And, due to the troupes' expert delivery, the rhyming enhances the comedy. (It was translated from French by Richard Wilbur, who wrote the book for the Broadway classic KISMET.
The naïve and constantly befuddled master of the house Orgon (Lee E. Ernst) and his imperious Mama, Madame Pernell (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) are under the Svengali sway of Tartuffe (Matarrese), a man they feel is forwarding heaven's cause and saves them from sin. You would not call the Madame a social butterfly: "Parties are inventions of the devil! They are parties of Babylon, where people babble on."
Matarrese, clothed in black, creates a strong presence that is both despicable and charming. His mannered flourishes and aggravated postures shriek 'schemer'.
The rest of the family is not buying into Tartuffe's chicanery.
Orgon is so enamored of Tartuffe that he has signed over all his worldly possessions to him. He also has pledged daughter Mariane (Kristin Villanueva) to this 'man of God'. She is not pleased. (Her facial reaction and subsequent bawling was classic Lucy Ricardo when she got herself in a kerfluffle.) Mariane desperately wants to wed Valere (Justin Keyes). Tartuffe however prefers Elmire (Elizabeth Heflin), wife of Orgon. He attempts to beguile her as he delicately fingers the cross hanging around his neck. He suggests she will be cleansed of sin if they have an affair. (3 centuries later Rasputin used the same subterfuge to bed noble women. "With God in thought, but mankind in the flesh!")
Heflin has comic chops worthy of the finest comediennes. To trap Tartuffe and reveal his duplicity, Elmire challenges Orgon to lie under a table to hear Tartuffe's aggressive advances. Her reasoning? "Amorous men are gullible". In a very amusing scene she continually beats on the table to arouse Orgon as Tartuffe attempts to seduce her. Her takes and her timing are excellent.
Finally, Orgon gets the message and demands that Tartuffe leave the house. Sadly for him though, he had given Tartuffe a box of incriminating letters (written by a friend) that the King would consider traitorous. A snidely lawyer (John Plumpis) arrives and tells the family they must quit their home for it is now owned by Tartuffe. An officer of the King (Hassan El-Amin) arrives and all think Orgon will be arrested. The tables are turned and it is Tartuffe who is handcuffed and led away.
Aisle Say will refrain from being a spoiler. I can say in the many years of savoring the artistry of UD Rep, there has never an ending so lavish, so full of awe and wonder. Second spoiler alert: the staff alerts the incoming guest that there is partial nudity. Goody, I thought, later to be let down. The 'partial nudity' was not what this reviewer was looking forward to.
This is theatre of the very highest caliber.
Through May7 Rep.Udel.Edu 302.831.2204