Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis & Raquel Duffy. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Soulpepper’s Tartuffe is a finely acted production with several directorial gimmicks that seem to lead nowhere.
Moliere’s play about the ultimate hypocrite takes place in Orgon’s house in Paris. In the current production, directed by László Marton, the play opens backstage and we see a couple of clothes racks. The cast rushes onstage, puts on 17th century (I assume) costumes, takes them off and the performance begins with the actors wearing modern clothes.
The clothes racks will disappear, a few painted panels will appear and the backstage will become an ordinary stage, say the type you would expect in an amateur theatre. There are a few covered pieces of furniture and it looks like a Little Theatre rehearsal with due care for the props. I am sure that Marton and Set Designer Lorenzo Savoini have something in mind in using this approach but I have no idea what it was.
If you ignore those gimmicks and listen to Richard Wilbur’s marvelous rhyming couplets you will enjoy the show.
Tartuffe is a man of God, a humbug and a conman sans pareille. Diego Matamoros in the role looks pious, lovable, almost cuddly on the surface and is quite a monster underneath. One can see why a gullible man like Orgon is duped by him. Oliver Dennis is perfect for the role. This Orgon is decent, generous, well-meaning and, unfortunately, pretty stupid.
Orgon’s wife Elmire is quite a different creature. She is smart, cunning, strong and very beautiful. Raquel Duffy is so sexually appealing in the role that even a less despicable person than Tartuffe would compromise his morals for her.
Gregory Prest, Colin Palangio, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Katherine Gauthier, Oyin Oladejo & Gordon Hecht. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Katherine Gauthier and Gordon Hecht are the young lovers, Mariane and Valère, and they make an attractive pair. Gregory Prest does a fine job as Orgon’s brother-in-law Cléante as does Brenda Robins as Mme Parnelle, Orgon’s elderly mother.
The success of any production of Tartuffe depends to a significant extent on the delivery of rhyming couplets. The cast did an excellent job. They spoke clearly without falling into monotony and there was sufficient modulation for a thorough enjoyment of the text. William Webster as the bailiff does superb work in this regard.
Tartuffe’s attempted seduction of Elmire while Orgon is hiding under a table was done brilliantly. Tartuffe drinks and sprays Elmire with wine; Orgon rolls out from under the table when Tartuffe looks under it; Elmire takes off and throws her panties under the table to get her idiot husband’s attention; she drives the suspicious Tartuffe bonkers with her sexual magnetism; Tartuffe pulls his pants down and at that moment Orgon comes out from under the table. Full marks to Marton for doing an outstanding job on this scene.
The disaster for the Orgon family is staved off by the appearance of a rex ex machina. In this case, it is a representative of Louis XIV who arrests Tartuffe and returns to Orgon the property that the conman had appropriated. A red carpet is rolled out and a miniature gold carriage is magically wheeled on stage. A letter from the King is on top of it and it will bring a happy end to the play. Cute.
We could have done without the clothes racks and such gimmicks. Take whatever period or style you want and stick to it. A fine cast and Moliere will do not need tricks.
Tartuffe by Moliere in the verse translation by Richard Wilbur opened on August 12 and will run in repertory until September 20, 2014 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666