Tartuffe Review April 2010

‘Tartuffe’ by Jean Baptiste Moliere
Performed at Sixth Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA
Opening Night, Friday, April 9th, 2010

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photo of Keith Baker (right) and Eric Thompson (left) by Eric Chazankin

This provocative, funny and visionary tale by master French playwright Moliere was first performed privately for King Louis XIV of France in 1664. Scandal ensued and the play was banned, but in 1669 the King relented and it was finally deemed fit for the public. Reviews of Tartuffe invariably point to its message: timely even after 350 years, it reveals how little human nature has changed. It is at once reassuring and disturbing, hilarious and frightening.

The story at its heart is simple: Orgon, pious head of an upper-class family, is duped into surrendering control of his household by the swindler Tartuffe, who masquerades as a religious leader. Orgon’s lovely wife Elmire, equally lovely daughter Marianne, petulant son Damis, and witty maid Dorine are all in an uproar over Tartuffe’s presence.

Santa Rosa’s Sixth Street Playhouse has mounted this heady piece with stylish gusto and originality, with skillful staging and directing by Sheri Lee Miller, based on a script from Richard Wilbur’s translation, and creative costuming by Pamela Johnson. Lighting, sound and scenic designers offer pleasing stagecraft that helps establish the fun yet important atmosphere of the piece. Modern touches, in bits of wardrobe and music, provide delightful surprises.

The ensemble performance is strong. Mary Gannon Graham as Dorine is an absolute standout with spot-on comedic timing. Eric Thompson’s Orgon is bright but hapless, not an easy combination to pull off. Keith Baker as Tartuffe fairly slides across the stage in a wickedly slimy turn. Also notable are Jenifer Cote as Elmire, Kendall Carroll as Marianne and Jimmy Gagarin as Valere. John Craven as Cleante and Freddie Lambert as Damis were rather stiff in technique, but may loosen up with time.

Treachery and lechery abound, but the real lesson of the play is not how someone can be as duplicitous as Tartuffe – it’s how an otherwise intelligent and successful person like Orgon can allow himself to be so easily and completely fooled. Much to ponder here, but just as healing medicine can have a sugar coat, the timeless wisdom contained in Moliere’s Tartuffe is covered in glee, a pleasure to consume, with its benefits lasting many hours and days and years. At Sixth Street Playhouse, Thurs-Sun through May 2nd.

Coming up: "RENT", the Pulizer Prize and Tony Award winning rock opera, from May 28 to June 27, 2010. Tickets $15 to $35 (707) 523-4185 www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

April 10, 2010