Susan Granger’s review of “Tartuffe” (Westport County Playhouse)
By Susan Granger
There’s nothing remotely archaic about the idea of a patriarch becoming so infatuated with a religious guru that he loses all reason, although that’s the concept behind Moliere’s satire, written back in 1664, as a commentary on the excesses of the Catholic Church during the reign of Louis XV, the Sun King.
Set in Orgon’s house in Paris, it begins as Orgon’s critical mother, Madame Pernelle (Patricia Conolly), proclaims, “This house appalls me!” She’s convinced that the resident ‘holy man’ interloper, Tartuffe (Marc Kudisch), is there to save them. Orgon’s wife Elmire (Nadia Bowers) disagrees, as does her brother Cleante (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson), and the other members of the household, particularly the outspoken maid Dorine (Jeanine Serralles). Told that she has to break off her engagement to marry Tartuffe, Orgon’s daughter Mariane (Charise Castro Smith) is heartbroken, as is her beloved fiancé Valere (Matthew Amendt). And when Orgon’s son Damis (Justin Adams) catches Tartuffe trying to seduce Elmire and reports this indiscretion to his father, he is not only chided but disinherited.
Act II consists of various clever ploys to convince Orgon of the truth, as he suffers the calamitous results of his folly. Translated by Richard Wilbur and directed by David Kennedy, it’s spoken, as written, in rhyming couplets, forming a considerable challenge for the actors, most of whom rise to the occasion. Jeanine Serralles obviously relishes her comedic moments, while Marc Kudish oozes an oily charisma, particularly as he manipulatively confesses, “I am a wicked man, I fear, a wretched sinner.”
Wilson Chen’s symmetrical set, filled with doors, seems perfect for a French farce, while Ilona Somogyi’s costumes are idiosyncratic -- from Orgon’s formal suit to Dorine’s scanty maid’s uniform.
As a result of its popularity, both the French and British still use the word ‘tartuffe’ to designate a hypocrite who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue.
Due to ticket demand, Moliere’s “Tartuffe” will continue at the Westport Country Playhouse through Sunday, August 5. For tickets and more information, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportcountryplayhouse.org.