April 15th, 2010
Classical Theatre Company: Tartuffe the Imposter
Three productions up, three down. Since its inception, I’ve been a regular to all of the Classical Theatre Company’s performances. Friday’s show pledged to be different if only in genre. The company would be trying their hand at their first comedy after two takes on Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet) sandwiching the great Greek tragedy, Antigone. From the moment I walked in the door of the Barnevelder Arts Complex I could tell that this was going to be a landmark night for the CTC. A full house looming from the rafters left me three seats from which to choose, all in the front row. Tonight, I will be part of the action. Tonight, I will meet the great French impostor, Tartuffe.
The first two lines of the play are both unsettling and hilarious. A family, brought together by an invited intruder to their home, connives to get him out of the estate. The lines are delivered as rhyming couplets, something that will always strike me as comic for some reason. Perhaps that’s only because it reminds me of the high school version of myself writing hapless, rhyming, love poetry.
Molière wrote Tartuffe in alexandrines: twelve-syllable rhyming couplets. The mere fact that the Classical Theatre Company was able to pull off the French to English translation and remain true to the concept is brilliant in and of itself. John Johnston, Director of Tartuffe and Executive Artistic Director of CTC, took two separate translations of Molière’s classic and adapted them to embrace the way it was intended to be produced. The play loses neither a single, calculated joke nor beat in measure. Johnston even goes as far as incorporating Houston via a reference to the plight of Stanford Financial for an unexpected wisecrack.
The capacity crowd cannot get enough of the production. There is a too-loud laugher sitting next to me in the front row and I find myself laughing at her as much as at the comedic cast itself. This is the human situation at its finest. It’s hard to be mad at her. A good cause to laugh is around every corner; one joke, one fine delivery, one over-dramatic entrance or pose rolls into the next like a flurry of punches from Mayweather.
Under the direction of Johnston the cast scuttles around the mauve walled stage that seems much bigger than performances past. Each prop gets its due as the actors interact and disappear Andrea Wright’s design. Even sitting right up front it is hard for me to tell where the next entrance or exit will come from. The stage is practically the fifteenth actor in Tartuffe lending a brand of physical (or spatial) comedy to the production.
It is the performances of Greg Wise as Orgon and Holly Haire as Dorine the maid that take the Classical Theatre Company’s debut into comedy that carry this production over the top. Wise’s performance, wrought with frantic neurosis and comical stubbornness, as the gullible head of the house is truly inspired. In fact, one scene that sees hardly a line of dialogue from Orgon as he hides attempting to catch the swindling Tartuffe in a lie is one of my favorites. The level-headed, overtly sarcastic Dorine portrayed by Haire really brings the play together.
None of the other actors should be overlooked. From Caleb Georges’ roid-raging, brotastic character of the son, Damis to the calculating manipulative title character of Tartuffe played by CTC veteran, Thomas Prior, the cast meshes into fantastic form. Let me not forget the mute, Capri Sun drinking henchmen. Their appearances though brief and wordless made for some of the funniest scenes.
With the final shows over the next four days be careful not to miss Tartuffe. Each bout of pacing, fist bump and couplet are worth the price of admission. In fact, on opening night the crowd laughed so hard it shook a piece of faux crown molding from the set which fluttered down and landed on my foot (at least that’s what I’m telling myself was the cause). I could go on about it, but “it’s half passed three and I have pious things to attend to.”
Based on the translations by Richard Wilbur & Maya Slater
Adapted by John Johnston
Directed by John Johnston
Scenic & Lighting Design – Barnevelder Arts Complex
Sound Design – Michael Mullins
Assistant Director – Kalob Martinez
Costume Design – Jodi Bobrovsky
Dramaturg – Martine Kei Green
Production Stage Manager – Andrea Wright
Kate Revnell-Smith (Madame Pernell)
Gregory Wise (Orgon)
Pamela Vogel (Elmire)
Caleb George (Damis)
Blair Knowles (Mariane)
Philip Hays (Valere)
Ted Doolittle (Cleante)
Thomas Prior (Tartuffe)
Kalob Martinez (Laurent)
Holly Haire (Dorine)
Mark Roberts (Mr. Loyal)
Marcus Cumby (Officer)
Salvador Chevez (Henchman)
Alison Coriell (Henchman)