Reviewed by James Karas
The Stratford Festival has scored the season’s grand slam with its production of Tartuffe at the Festival Theatre. Chris Abraham has directed a staging that crackles with energy, inventiveness, impeccable attention to detail and performances that are simply hilarious.
There is no doubt that the biggest credit for the success of production must go to Abraham. First he sets the pace and the tone. He sets a robust pace without making it frenetic as if it were a farce. He wants a lively tone and there is no character who delivers lines simply because they are in the text. Every line must and is delivered at full force, taking advantage of every nuance in the rhyming couplets.
Members of the company in Tartuffe. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Rhyming couplets can drag the pace down sometimes and even sound artificial. There is no such dangers in this production. Ranjit Bolt’s translation is colloquial and highly spirited and the cast delivers its lines with vigour and aplomb. In the modern dress production Abraham does not hesitate to add some Trumpisms such as fake news and alternative facts. The play was no doubt chosen for production before Donald Trump was elected president but he proved a fine target for humour and ridicule.
Anusree Roy as Dorine in Tartuffe. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The cast was first rate but I will give high praise first to Anusree Roy who plays the maid Dorine. This petite lady becomes a spitfire in the role. She delivers her lines with category 5 force and vivacity but she also adds physical comedy that enhances everything she does. When Tartuffe suggests that she cover her breasts so they will not offend his delicate morality, she shakes them, contorts her body and produces hilarious comedy.
Graham Abbey plays the foolish Orgon, the dupe who falls for Tartuffe’s unctuous hypocrisy and gives him all his property and his daughter. We get a bravura performance by Abbey, again full of energy and marvelous touches of humour invented by Abraham.
Maev Beaty as Elmire and Tom Rooney as Tartuffe in Tartuffe. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Maev Beaty as Orgon’s wife Elmire gets to display her considerable comic talents especially when Tartuffe tries to seduce her and she wants her husband to witness his friend’s depravity. Again Abraham does not allow any lines or physical action that can produce humour go to waste and neither does Beaty.
The lovers Mariane (Mercedes Morris) and Valere (Johnathan Sousa) have a spirited spat and she tries to stand up to her hopelessly deluded father, all with verve but no effect. Orgon’s son Damis (Emilio Vieira) does the same with same lack of success. Michael Blake is in an even tougher position as the reasonable Cleante. Fine performances by all.
Tom Rooney is a fine Tartuffe but I would have preferred him to be a little more sanctimonious. He was sporting some type of accent which he did badly and is unnecessary. Accents are not Rooney’s forte and he should skip them. Rod Beattie was wasted in the minor role of the bailiff.
The set by Julie Fox consists of a modern living room with a bar and serves the production well. The opening scene is converted into a party out of which the censorious Mme Pernelle storms out. The scene is not particularly funny on paper but Abraham with Rosemary Dunsmore in the role makes it very amusing.
It is a production that is brilliantly directed, superbly acted and provides a great night at the theatre.
Tartuffe by Moliere in a translation by Ranjit Bolt opened on August 17 and will continue in repertory until October 13, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca