Ashland, OR
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Tartuffe at Oregon ShakespeareTartuffe by Moliere, translated by Ranjit Bolt

Damn, it’s satisfying when a hoary piece of “accessible” culture is given genuine life on stage. 

When I last saw Tartuffe it was played for all of the pretentious fluff possible.  The play had no present meaning, unless you read the scholarly playbill notes.  It was a happy vacuous evening of Theatre. 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the 2002 translation by Ranjit Bolt, have banished that cotton candy Tartuffe from my memory. They’ve created a production that’s equally good fun and sharp satire.

The book is still happily over-populated with couplets that have the audience anticipating and dreading the payoff rhyme. Yet, the dialog is wickedly focused on its target: religious hypocrisy.

The language sounds unforced and honors Moliere much more than a translation into archaic English.  Bolt’s words left a friend sure that Tartuffe (Anthony Heald) was channeling Jimmy Swaggart. This Tartuffe was written just last week after yet another mega-church preacher was caught in bed, using drugs, doing things he denounced from the pulpit on Sunday.

Ah, but this scandal is so much more fun than the ones that litter the media.  Tartuffe’s saga includes alert characters who say the bitchy lines you find yourself screaming at the TV when today’s phony men of the cloth take center stage.

Linda Alper as Dorine, the maid, steals the show with her verbal and physical antics, stirring the family up against the interloper Tartuffe.  She was given the lines by Moliere/Bolt, but her eyes and the rest of her body are fully her responsibility.  Thank you, Linda!

The costume designer and actor Eileen DeSandre share honors for starting the play off in the proper tone. As the grandmother under Tartuffe’s spell, DeSandre is comical but unfortunately believable.  The headpiece she wears while delivering the play-beginning speeches is a quintuple ruffled lacy black-and-white thing that looks like an upside down albino wattle.

The remaining cast are merely excellent.

Susanne Irving hits just the right middle ground as Elmire, the wife of the family.  She moves the farcical storyline along with believable behavior and lends her credibility to help the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  Her scenes with Anthony Heald’s Tartuffe are fun but not over-the-top frenetic.  Thinking about the story written, that modicum of realistic feel cannot be easy to deliver.

Heald not only delivers a Swaggart, but also harks back to the clergy in The Crucible. He does a very nice job.

Richard Elmore’s Orgon is a properly blustering and blundering.  Richard Howard as Cleante (Elmire’s brother), Laura Morache as Mariane (the daughter), Kevin Kenerly as Valere (Mariane’s suitor), Gregory Linington as Damis (the son), and, well the entire cast deserve applause.

Ozdachs’ rating:
Four Syntaxes out of Five… excellent for a comedy.

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One Response to Tartuffe

  1. abqdan says:

    I saw Tartuffe (way too many) years ago in London. I had the same reaction you did – a piece of period fluff; I don’t recall who did that translation. So I’d love to be able to see this production. It sounds like they went back to square one and reinterpretted it for a modern audience. Shame they’re not touring!

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