Tartuffe At The Huntington
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
You could sit through the current production of Moliere’s Tartuffe now playing at the Huntington Theater with your eyes closed and have a wonderful evening. Open your eyes and the experience is sublime.
Director Peter DuBois chose to use a new translation by Ranjit Bolt which is all in verse, done in octameter (eight syllables per line), with rhymed couplets. The result is a fast paced feast of words that never lags, not for even moment.
The play, set in a Manhattan style terraced apartment with Louis XVI furnishings, is about family patriarch Orgon (Frank Wood) who is conned by the religious charlatan Tartuffe (Brett Gelman). All around him are able to see through Tartuffe but none can convince him of what is happening. The opening scene sets the tone where Dorine (Jane Pfitsch), the outspoken servant and truth teller, is reporting to Orgon on what has happened at home while he was away. To Dorine’s frustration, all he wants to know about is Tartuffe. Ms Pfitsch is very strong in her role and never misses a beat.
While Tartuffe is often described as a hypocrite, preaching fealty to God while trying to bed down his follower’s wife and steal his fortune, he is “a rare trickster” who has no convictions to be unfaithful to. He is fully aware of all he is doing and has carefully planned out his plot. Orgon’s weakness is his own hypocrisy. He has supposedly become a man of the Lord while now turning his back on his family, so much so that he is giveing his home over to Tartuffe and even promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to him. He also remains blind to the advances his idol is making towards his wife Elmire (Melissa Miller).
Brett Gelman’s Tartuffe is barely seen until late in Act I, but when he does arrive he is impressive. Wearing a black fez, long coat, and with religious symbols hanging from his neck, he is the picture of phony piety. Though obviously sleazy, he is also very funny as he manipulates Orgon while fending off being exposed by those around him. Frank Wood conveys just enough weakness to be vulnerable to a con man, but at the same time is someone who certainly should know better.
A scene where Orgon is hiding under a table while Tartuffe is attempting to seduce Elmire is sidesplittingly funny. Melissa Miller and Brett Gelman show off their wonderful comedic talent, while Mr. Wood is a positive riot as he is peaking out from under the table.
The words, the movements, the glances all make this just a joy to watch. The verse keeps them all so well connected and everything just flows. There is never a dull moment.
This play is very, very funny. It is also ironic that with all of the wonderful language, one of the funniest scenes is when Orgon and Elmire’s daughter Mariane (Sarak Oakes Muirhead) is caught in the middle of an argument about her future. Ms Oakes is positively hysterical without saying a word. Her movement about the stage and her facial expressions are simply hilarious.
Paula Plum swings a mean walking stick in the role of Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother. Matthew Bretschneider as Orgon and Elmire’s son Damis is a riot as he is recording the madness on his IPhone. Kate Elinoff is not on stage for long, but she manages to get a couple of the biggest laughs in the role of Madame Pernelle’s maid. Again, ironically, she does this without saying a word, but her facial expressions are priceless. Matthew J. Harris is solid as Cleante, a voice of reason and calm. Gabriel Brown brings a charm to his role as Valere, Mariane’s fiancee. And be sure to pay attention as Steven Barkhimer’s Laurent ascends the stairs in his religious garb. As Tratuffe’s servant he brings a touch of Marty Feldman’s Igor from Young Frankenstein to the play. The entire cast is just wonderful.
The Huntington’s Tartuffe is one not to be missed. While you will be tempted to make the comparisons with what is happening on stage with all of the madness going on the in world, just remember it is still okay to laugh. And, if this play does not have you laughing you have truly lost all sense of humor. It sparkles! I enjoyed every second of Tartuffe, and I am sure you will too. Don’t miss it.
The Huntington Theatre
Through December 10
264 Huntington Ave., Boston