Audience enriched by wealth of laughs in ‘Tartuffe’
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau
From the minute the main characters appear on the stage of “Tartuffe,” clad in aristocratic finery amid a luxurious setting of obvious wealth, it is clear they are a family with much to lose.
As it turns out, they in fact have everything to lose, and that is precisely what’s at stake for the delightfully rendered characters as they proceed along a path both perilous and hilarious in this 18th-century French comedy by Moliere.
That they do so on a visually stunning set – highlighted by a white-and black checkered floor and a colossal green and gold center door and in magnificent costumes topped by over-the-top wigs – makes Tartuffe, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ethington Theatre, a sumptuous feast for the senses.
The affluent family is all aflutter because the head of household, Orgon (Cameron Cluff) is in thrall with Tartuffe (Levi Roberts), whose veneer of piousness only Orgon fails to see through.
The maid, Dorine (Christina Ward), laments that Orgon is
“A man besotted, since he’s been so taken
With this Tartuffe. He calls him brother, loves him
A hundred times as much as mother, son,
Daughter, and wife. He tells him all his secrets
And lets him guide his acts, and rule his conscience.
He fondles and embraces him; a sweetheart
Could not, I think, be loved more tenderly.”
Tartuffe’s proverbial claws dig ever deeper into Orgon, who alone has power of his vast holdings. At the start of the play, the family learns that another great catastrophe is in the brewing – Orgon intends to give Tartuffe the hand of his daughter, Mariane (Natalie Shields) even though she is in love with Valere (Jalanie Lee).
It seems that the more Orgon’s family members warn him of Tartuffe’s evil schemes, the more thoroughly he rebuffs them, even disinheriting and banishing his son, Damis (Gavin Harris), after he complains of Tartuffe’s growing influence.
“Just to spite them all. ‘Tis my delight to set them in a rage. …
And what is more, the better to defy them,
I’ll have no heir but you; and straightaway,
I’ll go and make a deed of gift to you.”
Much of the action centers around the desperate family members’ attempts to prove to Orgon that Tartuffe is in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Will he realizes it in time to keep his estate out of the hands of Tartuffe, who would evict them all? Will he see the truth before wedding his distraught daughter to a man she loathes while the man of her dreams is so near at hand?
The play is filled with laughs and slapstick comedy. Mariane rolls on the ground at key moments to loudly bemoan her father’s plots. She and Valere have a side-slapping lover’s quarrel that pits stubborn against obstinate.
The humor is also exceptional in its fine detail. The facial expressions and small utterances of Elmire (Stacy Arleen) speak more loudly and amusingly than words.
One of the funniest scenes is when Tartuffe attempts to steal the affections of Elmire, who is Orgon’s wife. Elmire is forced to pick up her chair and move it across the stage with a thump to escape Tartuffe’s roving hands.
In another scene, when Orgon “hides” on all fours under a table while Elmire attempts to elicit Tartuffe’s true nature, Elmire has to sit on him to keep him out of Tartuffe’s sight.
The opulent rococo costumes alone are an eyeful of delight, and the lighting masterfully portrays different times of day during the play – which takes place over 24 hours.
The enormously talented student production crew dedicated months of labor and love to bring it to life. They were tapped as designers for “Tartuffe” because it’s a criterion for competing in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, which showcases the finest regional productions.
“All of our designers, as well as the actors, stage manager and dramaturg, are students and will be competing for recognition in this storied event,” said Claude Pensis, play director and COFAP Dean. “It has been a great joy to work with them and watch them grow throughout the process, and it will be wonderful to observe as they work their way through the festival activities.”
Director: Claude Pensis, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production
Stage manager: Taylor Harrison, senior COFAP student
Tickets: Click here; students get in free with ID
First week: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Second week: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22
Cameron Cluff – Orgon
Stacy Arleen – Elmire
Levi Roberts – Tartuffe
Christine Ward – Dorine
Natalie Shields – Mariane
Jalani Lee – Valere
Gavin Harris – Damis
Jeremy Carr – Cleante
Sarah Schalick – Madame Pernelle
Madelyn Mertes – Flipote
Osama Awadalla – Monsieur Loyal
Andrew Weedman – King’s Officer
Student design crew:
Trustin Adams – hair and makeup designer
Emily Ward Burritt – dramaturg
Tarnim Bybee – lighting designer
James Coblentz – properties designer
Gavin Harris – chaplain
Marija Petovic – costume designer
Keeli Rodriguez – scenic designer
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or email@example.com.