Group: Mustard Seed Theatre
Venue: Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
Dates: April 29, 30, May 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9
Tickets: From $15 to $30; contact 314-719-8060 or www.mustardseedtheatre.com
Story: French aristocrat Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle, have fallen under the sway of Tartuffe, a ne’er-do-well who has convinced them that he is a pious and upright sort who will lead them to salvation in the afterlife. Orgon, in fact, is so duped by his guest that he announces Tartuffe will marry his daughter, Mariane, who is actually in love with the dashing young Valere. Orgon also signs over his home and worldly possessions to Tartuffe as a sign of his faith in the holy man.
When Orgon’s wife, Elmire, tells him about Tartuffe’s lecherous advances to her, Orgon reluctantly agrees to eavesdrop on Elmire’s arranged meeting with Tartuffe as Elmire dupes the hypocrite into seducing her. The unwelcome guest, however, retaliates by ordering Orgon and his family and servants evicted from the home that Tartuffe now owns. Will Tartuffe ever get his comeuppance?
Highlights: Working from a translation by Richard Wilbur, Mustard Seed Theatre director Deanna Jent and her cast offer a bright, briskly paced, enjoyable production of Moliere’s 17th century classic French comedy, molding the work’s rhyming couplets into easily understood banter that reinforces the humor and wittiness of the playwright’s enduring farce.
The action takes place on a sumptuous set designed by Dunsi Dai that features a speckled tile floor, handsome wood panels and a smattering of Renaissance-style paintings, including a large central one that covers twin doors on the two-story set. JC Kracijek adds an abundance of lush, brightly colored period costumes, with snippets of classical music in Kareem Deanes’ sound design and a quartet of chandeliers utilized by Bess Moynihan to illuminate the proceedings.
Other Info: In addition to the fine technical support, Jent’s breezy presentation benefits from several delightful performances. J. Samuel Davis neatly captures Orgon’s gullibility, nicely shaping the poetic dialogue with exaggerated gestures and broad facial reactions to his household’s resistance to the oily ways of his duplicitous guest. Colleen Backer’s expert comic timing enhances the saucy, clever lines delivered by the quick-witted maid, Dorine, responding to Orgon’s admonition of silence at one point with “I’m not talking, I’m thinking hard.”
Gary Wayne Barker brings a proper measure of bombast to the nefarious title role, broadly playing up Tartuffe’s feigned reverence and allegiance to his susceptible host while pointedly disdaining the others, save for his ignoble advances on Elmire. Kelley Ryan displays her own refined measure of comic ability as lady Elmire, particularly in the farcical seduction scene with Tartuffe.
Richard Lewis is nearly unrecognizable beneath the flamboyant wig and pale makeup of Monsieur Loyal, a dull-witted bailiff sent to evict Orgon from his home. It’s a minor role but Lewis makes it shine with his preciously measured delivery. Michael Brightman is appropriately droll as Orgon’s proper brother-in-law, Cleante, while Peggy Billo amusingly conveys the pomposity and absurdity of Madame Pernelle, who rails against decadence while praising her delivery at the hands of the sleazy guest.
Zoe Sullivan and David Chandler make for a charming and handsome young couple as Mariane and Valere, respectively, even if Valere’s flowing locks are decorated with a pair of pretty bows. Kareem Deanes has fun as Orgon’s impetuous son Damis, Phillip Bettison plays the officer who ostensibly arrives to arrest Orgon, and Carmen Larimore Russell and Jackson Mabry serve to effectively fill the unspoken parts of Madame Pernelle’s maid and Tartuffe’s servant, respectively.
As one of the characters intones in one scene, it’s easy to be “Tartuffified” in this witty, engaging and entertaining presentation that reinforces Moliere’s timeless gift for wry observation of human foibles.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.