BWW Reviews: TARTUFFE at Taproot Theatre
A con-man who expounds on his own piety only to eventually be discovered as the most unscrupulous hypocrite of them all. No this is not the latest Senatorial scandal from Washington DC, but the season opener for Taproot Theatre as they present Moliere's comedy in verse, "Tartuffe". And while at times I felt they went a little too broad with the characters and lacked focus, they still managed to turn in a raucous evening.
French aristocrat Orgon has taken in to his home the seemingly virtuous Tartuffe and now hangs on the man's every word as being sent from Heaven above, must to the chagrin of his family who has seen through the mask of this cad. So as the family tries to convince their father that he should turn him out, Tartuffe digs himself in further and further to the point of convincing Orgon to cancel his daughter's betrothal to Valere in favor of her marrying Tartuffe and signing over his entire estate. And this sets up the hilarity to ensue as the family tries to unravel the web of deceit that Tartuffe has spun.
Director Karen Lund has apparently done the best thing she could possibly do for the play which is to instruct the cast to ignore the rhymes and just play the scenes. Too often in shows with any kind of rhythmic verse, the actors get mired in the rhythm and lose the meaning of what they're saying which at best causes the story to become muddled and at worst can lull the audience to sleep. That and she keeps the pace lightning quick in order to keep the audience engaged (although at times a bit too quick).
The cast each has their own moments to shine in the show and each does a fine job within their own moments. Jesse Notehelfer as the lady of the house Elmire, is deliciously frustrated as she tries to seduce Tartuffe in order for her husband to see and has a wonderful moment as you can see on her face the instant she realizes she has the power over Tartuffe. Don Brady as said husband Orgon is a pompous dullard who has no intention of listening to his family. Charissa Adams and Solomon Davis are delightful as the overly excitable children Mariane and Damis each with their own intentions along with the foppish Nathan Jeffrey as the suitor Valere. Ruth McRee and Charity Parenzini as Madame Pernelle and the maid Doreen have the unenviable task of putting forth the majority of the setup and exposition for the show and manage it without ever falling into narration. Especially Parenzini's Doreen who seems to be the smartest one of the bunch and keeps the show nicely grounded. Frank Lawler as the eponymous Tartuffe manages an outrageous and devilish man of virtue. Although I would have preferred a bit more varied and cerebral character as I sometimes found it difficult to believe that this man could deceive anyone. And special kudos to Ryan Childers as Cleante, Elmire's brother, who turned in the most engaging and connected performance of the evening.
And that is why I think the show missed the mark a bit for me. While each of the characters has their moments in the show and each of the actors certainly ran with those moments, they each only seemed to really come alive when they were in those moments and weren't really connecting with their fellow actors during their respective moments. It's really the difference between a group of actors and an ensemble. Childers seemed to be the one listening the most as he was even able to salvage a scene with nothing but a physical gesture when another actor missed a cue. Now that's a listening and thinking actor.
So, while not the most brilliant production I've seen of Moliere, it definitely ranks up there in that they at least knew the story they were trying to convey rather than saying the pretty words. And they still managed to turn in a fun and frothy evening.
"Tartuffe" plays at Taproot Theatre through March 3rd. For tickets or information contact the Taproot box office at 206-781-9707 or visit them online at www.taproottheatre.org.
Photo credit: Matthew Lawrence