Saturday, October 25, 2003

Tartuffe (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

'TARTUFFE' delights, Andrew May is wonderful at Great Lakes Theatre Festival

Based on his spoken belief that, “The most effective way of attacking vice is to expose it to public ridicule” Moliere, considered to be France’s greatest dramatist, laid the foundation for his revered farce, ‘TARTUFFE.’ The play, which is also known as ‘THE HYPOCRITE,’ relates the story of an attempt by Tartuffe, a scheming hypocrite, to destroy the happiness of Orgon, a well-to-do Parisian householder. Orgon is so deceived by the villain’s manipulations that he makes Tartuffe the master of the house, including promising the marriage of the charletan to Marianne, Orgon’s daughter. The play illuminates how right wins out over wrong through a series of hysterically funny scenes.

Though the approach may seem time-worn by modern day standards, when Molliere crafted this work, he was assailing Parisian foibles in a new theatrical mode. The play, which now seems delightfully harmless, incited some theatre-owners to ban it from production. That withstanding, Moliere has drawn admiration few dramatists have equalled. He has developed characters like Orgon and Tartuffe which are considered to be classically crafted. His works, along with Shakespeare’s, have stood the test of time and have become classics.

Drew Barr, except for a casting error, has created a fine production. The pace, keying of laughter, and the creation of visually pleasing stage pictures is well done. The epitome for setting the farcial tone was Scott Plate’s heaven-sent entrance as the King’s soldier, complete with fanfares and billowing smoke and a long, elegant march down the staircase.

Little did Moliere know, when the play was produced for the first time at Versailles in 1664 that an Andrew May would come along in a 2003 production of ‘TARTUFFE’ at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival to make his Orgon everything that the writer intended. No one--repeat--no one can play farce better than May. He makes an art form of mumfering, fumphering, bulging out his eyes, getting caught in mid-word stutter, and displaying enormous pain in the most hysterical of ways. He does it with ease and naturalism. This is not acting a role, this is May being Orgon. If you loved May in the Cleveland Play House’s ‘I LOVE HAMLET’ several seasons ago, you will fall in love with him all over again in ‘TARTUFFE.’ May is nothing short of astoundingly outstanding. Applause, applause, standing ovation!

Laura Perrotta as the sharp-tongued maid, Dorine, is a perfect foil for May. She inserts all the right pins to set him off in anguish. This is Perrotta at her finest!

Aled Davies is delightful as Cleante, Orgon’s brother-in-law who can’t say anything other than with pompous long-windedness. Paula Duesing, as Orgon’s mother, gets caught in the rhyming trap of stressing beat and cadence rather than meaning in her early speeches, but recovers well, speaking ideas as the play progresses. Sara M. Bruner, who has made a career of playing “sweet young things,” is a very competent sweet young thing, once again, as Orgon’s daughter Mariane. Wayne Turney is delightful as the bailiff. He gets the most out of a brief appearance.

Steve Tague feigns Tartuffe. As the gentlemen sitting behind me said at intermission,” “Come on now, how could Orgon be fooled by that obvious act being put on by Tartuffe?” Right on, fellow theatre-goer. Tague’s was an all surface portrayal with little texture. Left to Tague’s sole performance, ‘TARTUFFE’ would have missed the mark as much as ‘HAMLET’ did when he failed to well-develop that lead role. But, fortunaely, an otherwise strong cast saved the day.

Gage Williams scenic design and Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes aid greatly in creating the right illusions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘TARTUFFE’ is a “go see.” You get to experience Andrew May in action, while also enjoying one of the great comedic plays by one of the world’s greatest writers in a solid production.