Monday, March 17, 2003

Tartuffe (Actors' Summit)

'TARTUFFE' entertains audience, but...

Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was born in Paris on January 15, 1622. As a young boy, he learned that he could cause quite a stir by mimicking his mother's priest. This laid the path for his use of satire and his development into an actor. As a playwright he was a favorite of the French court in spite of his making fun of all that surrounded him. He died, as he had lived, a man of contradictions. On February 17, 1673, he suffered a hemorrhage while on stage. He passed away later that night. The local priests refused to take his confession, for actors had no social standing and had been excommunicated by the church. Nor would they permit him to be buried in holy ground. Four days later, the King interceded and Molière was finally buried in the Cemetery Saint Joseph under the cover of darkness.

Molière is considered to be one of France’s greatest writers and laid the foundation for what we now call satire or farce. His plays, which are still frequently done today, include ‘THE MISANTHROPE,’ ‘THE DOCTOR IN SPITE OF HIMSELF’ and ‘THE IMAGINARY INVALID.’

“Tartuffe’ relates the story of an attempt by a con-man, to destroy the domestic happiness of the wealthy, but naive, Orgon and his family. The plot is full of improbable twists and turns which illustrate manipulation, and the plight of young love. Of course, in the end, good wins out over evil and the audience has had a good laugh and has supposedly learned some valuable lessons.

Farce has been defined as“a style of writing that centers on improbable situations,” “the persons and action of a farce are all unnatural, and the manners false.” Farce is hard to perform because it must be so serious in its presentation that the ridiculousness comes out. Many directors and actors fail to understand that the power of the word is the power of farce. They, instead, contrive to make what is written to be funny, humorous through devices. The result is a very entertaining evening of theatre, but loses the lessons of the writer. This is the case with Actors’ Summitt’s 'TARTUFFE.'

Director Neil Thackaberry has been given a wonderful translation of the French script by local actor and writer Wayne S. Turney. Turney has lost none of the satire and style as he tightened what is an overly long original theatrical piece. He has also maintained the wonderful rhyme and cadence of the language. Thackaberry has taken the script and staged it in its most slapstick and broadest form. Lots of double-takes, over exaggerations in speech and gestures pour-forth. As evidenced by the audience’s response, they loved the interpretation.

Only Joe Gunderman, as Orgon’s brother-in-law plays his role tongue in cheek. Theatre traditionalists will love his interpretation. Tom Fulton, as Tartuffe, pulls out all the stops. He mugs, he prances, he feigns, in the best comedy sense. Thackaberry, who not only directs but plays Orgon, yells and mugs his way through the roll. Again, with positive reaction from the assemblage. Mary Jane Nottage plays Orgon’s ditsy mother to the hilt.

Capsule judgment: The audience loved Actors' Summit's interpretation of 'Tartuffe,' but the show doesn't really illustrate Molliere's point.