Tartuffe: But for the Grace of Dog
Tartuffe is one of Molière's best-known plays, about a con artist who swindles a gullible family man by posing as a pious Christian. Dog Run Rep presents Jeff Cohen's new adaptation, which re-sets the play in 1930s Depression-Era New York. Cohen says in his director's notes that he adapted the play to 1931 so that audiences could better identify with characters they recognize. Unfortunately, his adaptation provides us mainly with character types who are nearly cartoons, with affected mannerisms and put-on speech impediments, all of which distance the audience from the play and makes it difficult to extract laughs from the actual material (as opposed to the wacky antics and shtick of the actors). Although Molière himself was firmly grounded in the stock types of the Commedia Dell'Arte, his was a literary use which granted them more of a reality, in which this production is lacking, trying to turn social satire into slapstick.
Some clearly talented performers sweat for the laughs. Christina DeCicco puts on an impressive (but inappropriate) Betty Boop voice as Elmire, and still manages to ground her character a bit. Katia Asche is girlish and winning as Marianne- perhaps a little too girlish; I wasn't quite sure just how old she's meant to be- she's dressed and lisps like a nine-year old, but has a boyfriend and Tartuffe plans to marry her. The boyfriend Valere (Rob Maitner) is unctuous and amusing. Aaron Costa Ganis is winning as stuttering son Damis. Susan Jeffries is formidable and makes the most of her two scenes as the overbearing matriarch Mrs. Pernelle. Other actors seem a bit lost, and seem to be hitting their marks under duress - Deanna Henson is oddly restrained as Dorine the maid, and Brian Linden seems to not know what to do with Cleante's long speeches. As Orgon, Keith Buterbaugh seems to smile his way through the role, not really getting angry for more than a minute. And Tom Ford plays Tartuffe as if he were Bugs Bunny, constantly showing everyone what a stinker he is.
The 1930s setting is indicated by the music (Anette Hanshaw, Cab Calloway), and the costumes (some fine work, for the most part, by Anne E. Grosz), though if Cohen wanted to draw some parallels between the Great Depression and our current financial crisis, just what those might be is unclear (aside from a mention of Bernie Madoff in the program). Jay Scott's lighting is constantly calling attention to itself, with dimly-lit tableaux at the beginning of each act, lighting that follows the characters around the room, and dramatically lit final lines.
It's certainly noble to have Dog Run Rep's commitment to revitalizing the downtown area of Manhattan (the theater is housed in the former Ann Claiborne boutique), and this production is part of their Winter Theater at the South Street Seaport, which also includes a musical (playing in rep) called Crazy Head Space, and a couple of reading series.
Molière, adapted and directed by Jeff Cohen
210 Front Street
The Seaport is located at South Street and Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. The area is accessible by the J, M, Z, 2, 3, 4, 5 at Fulton Street or the A, C at Broadway-Nassau.
TARTUFFE plays the following schedule through Saturday, April 5:
Monday, March 9 @ 7 p.m.
Friday, March 13 @ 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 14 @ 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 15 @ 7 p.m.
Wednesday, March 18 @ 8 p.m.
Friday, March 20 @ 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 21 @ 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 22 @ 7 p.m.
Wednesday, March 25 @ 8 p.m.
Friday, March 27 @ 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 28 @ 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 29 @ 7 p.m.
Tickets to individual shows of WINTER THEATRE AT SOUTH STREET SEAPORT are $18. A special $40 Seaport Theatre Pass for admission to all shows, readings and extra performance events is also available. Individual tickets and the Seaport Theatre Pass can be purchased by calling SMARTTIX at (212) 868-4444 or online at www.smarttix.com.