Friday, June 19, 2015

Tartuffe: A Laugh Riot

Moliere comedy at the Midnight Sun

 Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 18, 2015

from left: Heather Christopher, Michael Christopher and Christian Carvajal. Photo by Austin Lang.

Theater Artists Olympia brings a comedy by 17th century French writer Molière to the Midnight Sun, and it is as funny today as it must have been in Paris 48 years after the death of Shakespeare (whom I mention because lines from Shakespeare are quoted in Tartuffe, probably intended as both satire and homage).

The language is surprisingly modern even if spoken in rhyme and with a noticeable lack of F-bombs and other foul language so common in contemporary plays. Even the rhyming sounds like modern kitsch, and everything is easily understood.

Tartuffe is satire that blasts religious posturing and hypocrisy in the form of romantic farce with lots and lots of physical comedy. 

Tartuffe (played by Michael Christopher at his absolute best) is a charlatan who pretends to be a man of God in order to bilk the rich out of their money and women out of their pantaloons. Orgon (Christian Carvajal) is hornswoggled by Tartuffe. He believes the slick charlatan is a saint and admires him so much that he makes him heir to his fortune and promises him his daughter’s hand in marriage. The daughter, Mariane (Vanessa Postil), is in love with and betrothed to another man, Valere (Xander Layden). But Tartuffe is more interested in Orgon’s sexy wife, Elmire (Adriana Chavez) and is determined to bed her.

Everyone except Orgon sees right through Tartuffe’s deception. They try to warn Orgon but he will not listen, so Elmire risks pretending to fall for Tartuffe’s advances in order to prove to Orgon just what a deceptive beast the so-called saint really is.

The acting brilliantly combines modern day slapstick with a takeoff of 17th century histrionics (we have little knowledge of how actors actually acted in 1664). Christopher, Carvajal, and Chavez, are all marvelously over the top and out of control. Also worthy of the highest praise is Amanda Stevens as the wise and sassy maid, Dorine. Her delivery and timing, and her eye-rolling, head shaking, teeth-gnashing expressions between lines and when others are speaking are comic gold. When Tartuffe and Orgon are on stage together, Christopher and Carvajal are like a couple of Marx Brothers, and Christopher and Chavez are insanely funny in the seduction scene. This is comic acting of the highest order.

And it would be wrong of me to not mention the director, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe in her directorial debut. Much of the impeccable timing and blocking throughout has to be credited to her.

And then there’s the costuming by Jim Morgan. The rococo extravagance of the women’s dresses and lingerie and the cleverly modern take on period French clothing is fabulous, and the subtle coloring of actors’ hair to match their costumes is sheer genius.
Theater Artists Olympia’s production of this classic farce is hilarious and beautiful.

Opening night was sold out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if every other night doesn’t sell out soon, so I recommend getting tickets early.

Tartuffe, 8 p.m., June 18-20 and 25-27, 2:30 p.m. June 21, The Midnight Sun Performance Space,113 Columbia St., Olympia, $15, at door or online at ($16.52 with service fee), pay what you can June 18.

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