Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Off the Wall Theatre, "Tartuffe"

On Sunday evening, September 27th, we went to Off the Wall Theatre to see their production of "Tartuffe." We were particularly interested in this show, since the script was adapted by producer/director Dale Gutzman, and we had been very favorably impressed by his work on last season's "Odyssey". Not a direct translation, Mr. Gutzman had used as source material some of the better regarded English translations, and then recast the story into rhyming couplets,the form originally used by the author, Moliere.

We found the script as presented very clever and engaging, with the rhyme scheme being very well done, with few strained rhymes. When well delivered, the couplet form was not obtrusive and did not distract from the enjoyment of the play.

In Moliere's play, a well-off business man, Orgon (Randall Anderson), falls under the influence of self-anointed holy man, Tartuffe (David Flores). Orgon (whose name in French means "pigeon") subjects his family to all manner of puritanical austerities dictated by Tartuffe, while behind his back, the preacher allows himself every kind of gross indulgence of the flesh, including thinking lustful thoughts of both Orgon's daughter, Mariane (Brittni Hesse), and his wife, Elmire (Jacqueline Roush).

Anderson's Orgon appears to be a stereotypical buttoned-up Republican type, so its a bit surprising that he falls for Flores' street-preacher, who is crude, unwashed,and unkempt. But, as we find, it is a profound emptiness in Orgon's spiritual life that opens him to Tartuffe's manipulations. Eventually, Elmire and her brother, Cleonte (Jeremey C. Welter) succeed in exposing Tartuffe's hypocrisy, which leads to still more trouble for the family.

It takes only a little updating to bring the issues raised by the play into sharp focus, being as these days, issues of separation of church and state, public morality, self-righteousness, and "selfish-righteousness" are current topics.

The play was very funny, edgy, and we enjoyed it. My major criticism would be in the characterization of Tartuffe, who's such a gross slob it's hard to credit Orgon's enrapturement, even given his spiritual void. I find it more effective when Tartuffe is a Jekyll-Hyde character, able to shift from sanctimonious censor to drooling beast and back in the space of a breath. Since the portrayal is much of a piece with the action and script, I would guess that this is as much due to Mr. Gutzman's imagining of the character as to Mr. Flores' acting, choosing to play the character broadly and make the most of Orgon's foolishness.

Also, it must be admitted that not all the actors were equally skillful handling the verse. The principals, Anderson, Flores, Roush, and especially Marilyn White as the clear-eyed maid, Dorine, were naturalistic, and ably avoided the pitfall of becoming "sing song" or letting the rhyme and rhythm become too pronounced. Not all the supporting cast were as able, but that is one of the hazards of choosing to perform a rhymed piece.

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Tags: theatre
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