Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Tartuffe"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


"Tartuffe"

by Moliere
Translated into English by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Scenic Design by Kristin Loeffler
Lighting Design by John Ambrosone
Costume Design by Emily Dunn
Production Stage Manager Jessica Rae Chartoff

Louis XIV.......................Shelley Bolman
The Queen...........................Lea Antolini
Priest/Loyal....................Paul D. Farwell
Mariane......................Marianne Basham
Orgon/Moliere..............Michael Poisson
Elmire..............................Rachel Harker
Dorine................................Jennie Israel
Damis.................................Ted Hewlett
Valere................................Colin Stokes
Cleante........................Diego Arciniegas
Filpote.................Anelis Aymee Negron
Mme. Pernelle..................Deena Mazur
Tartuffe.....................Richard McElvain

In this odd twilight-time between New Year's Eve and the IRNE Awards bash I must say that, come next year, a major contender for "the Best Production, Best Director, Best Set, and Best Ensemble of 2002" will be Rick Lombardo's version of Moliere's "Tartuffe" now playing at The New Repertory Theatre in Newton Highlands .... and maybe Richard McElvain will be in contention as Best Actor too. This is a show full of knockabout and slapstick, exaggeration and pratfalls, a play-within-a-play with historical insights about its time, and a whole baker's dozen stunning actors, playing to and with each other and the audience, who literally juggle Richard Wilbur's rhyming couplets like tennis balls.

The play opens on a little bandbox stage in 1676, the apron ringed with footlight-candles and the room hung with candelabra --- and the warm colors of the cyclorama and the costumes softened by a faint haze of smoke from all those candles. Moliere's company, swathed in sumptuously exaggerated finery by Emily Dunn and sporting mime-like character-makeup nowhere near reality, are assembling, warming-up, flirting with the audience, jabbering and arguing like a rep-company who know one another much too well.

They're nervous because (all rise!) their King and Queen --- and a grumpy priest --- will hear their play: not the one announced, but by royal request the highly controversial (blasphemous, some say) and banned send-up of pious hypocrisy called "Tartuffe." One royal titter or an autocratic frown can mean fortune, fame, or disgrace and maybe even prison. And so the playing --- hampered a bit as it is by the necessity of bowing to the royal box at every entrance or exit! --- begins crisp, quick, and over the top with trepidation. Please, Majesty, laugh!

The players here are as much acrobats as actors, taking the license of comedy to overact deliciously, and to play with the verse. They are at pains either to stomp on a rhyme with hobnailed-boots or to trip blithely past it --- so long as sense and silliness are properly served. They will often stand and deliver lines, or asides, broadside at the audience --- especially the comments about other characters on stage! The result is a sort of breakneck lyrical melody, almost as though Director Rick Lombardo wanted it to be a musical.

One important aspect of the play is that everyone --- especially the family's impertinent maid --- takes a turn at center stage, stating their opinions at full voice, with a stage-full of snipers tossing saucy comments in at every pause. The production is a crowded textbook on comic styles --- verbal, physical, and interactive.

The story has father (Michael Poisson) duped by a charlatan (Richard McElvain), who has grandma's (Deena Mazur's) misguided trust, who feigns piety yet has eyes to seduce the man's wife (Rachel Harker), to disinherit his son (Ted Hewlett) and to marry his daughter (Marianne Basham) --- despite the viper-tongued comments of his maid (Jennie Israel), his friend (Diego Arciniegas), and everyone else in the household. Things get in such a muddle that a bailiff (Paul D. Farwell) gives them 24-hours to vacate their home, the daughter's fiancÚ (Colin Stokes) tries to help, their drudge (Anelis Aymee Negron) collapses in tears, and only a message from.....

Ahhh, no! That would be telling!
Suffice it to say the cast handles their festooned finery and sumptuous wigs as effortlessly as their lines, with full-out dead-on originality. As each character gets their moment to shine, dancing their way through thickets of couplets, it becomes a contest in who can top whom --- until Richard McElvain's Tartuffe takes the prize. He is all quiet, exaggerated humility, his monstrous little voice dipping whole octaves to rasp out some syllable stuffed with subtext. He is a magnificent mountebank who can vilify himself with the truth at the same time convincing his gullible benefactor it's all lies and jealous calumny. What a rogue he is!

What a show this is! There's so much invention crammed into it there are laughs for every taste on ever level, and a happy ending-within-a-happy ending!
But you'll have to go out to Newton Highlands (if there are still seats) to find out what I mean by that, won't you?

Love,
===Anon.


"Tartuffe" (9 January - 10 February)
NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON, MA
1 (617) 332-1646


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