Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Wild and Wooly Production of Molière's Tartuffe

Also see Richard's reviews of The Twelve Days of Cochina, Reckless, and Ice Glen

Michael Fields and Deborah Taylor Barrera
The Marin Theatre Company is playing host to the fabulous Dell'Arte Company's wild and zany version of Tartuffe by the master of 17th century farcical comedy, Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière. The farce was written in 1664 and was initially banned by King Louis XIV of France. The King thought it funny but the religious powers of the day did not. The Bishop of Autun thought that Molière had based the play on him, so the Archbishop of Paris laid a ban of excommunication on all who might act in the play, read it or see it. The King finally granted Le Tartuffe ou l'Imposteur to be performed in public in 1669.

Tartuffe is still effective in today's world since it deals with religious hypocrisy and its gullible victims. It is probably one of the French playwright's most provocative and timeless works. The Dell'Arte Company, which is the nation's leading physical theatre school, is located at Blue Lake in Humboldt County. They are presenting this entertaining screwball version that features over the top acting. Each of actors does a mélange of slapstick antics, such as exaggerated-acting characters in ridiculous 17th century Parisian costumes. The women wear outlandish wigs and broad-hipped gowns with deep cleavage.

Several years ago have passed since I saw Tartuffe in the U.K. with Anthony Sher playing Tartuffe and Nigel Hawthorne playing Orgon. (That production was more somber.) Molière's travesty is occasionally produced in the United States, but it takes excellent actors with a background in farce to put it across to the audience. The Dell'Arte Company is presenting a first class production of the comedy.

The plot centers on the irreclaimable hypocrite Tartuffe who has ingratiated himself with Orgon and his mother, Mme. Pernelle. This religious charlatan is taken into their home as a prominent guest. He is promised Orgon's daughter's hand in marriage even though he secretly attempts to seduce Orgon's wife. Everyone in the family, except Orgon and his mother, sees through Tartuffe's pose, and his machinations and hypocrisies are eventually exposed. The play sharply satirizes blind hypocrisy, religious piety and deceit in irreverent rhymed verse.

Director Giulio Cesare Perrone puts emphasis on the broader comic aspects of character and situation and not the emotional depths of the play. Many scenes, such as the wild segment of Tartuffe attempting to seduce the wife of Orgon with the husband under the table, are pure Marx Brother's comedy.

Perrone has assembled a great cast of comic actors who do justice to the French playwright's farce. They have expert timing in this travesty of religious duplicity. Kevin Michael Fields is superb in the role of Tartuffe, who does not enter until the second act. He is more ridiculous than villainous as the overly smarmy person. Fields is comically outrageous in his movements about the stage and plays the role as a hilarious Falstaff from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Adrian C. Mejia is splendid as Orgon. He wears a classically comic half mask that reminds me of an Italian commedia dell'arte façade, and bends over like a doddering and stooped-shoulder old man. His voice crackles like an ancient and rapacious old fool. He has the rhyming iambic pentameter down perfectly.

Keight Gleason as the maid Dorine is the voice of reason, wearing no outlandish garb, and is perfectly suited to the role. Her teasing of Orgon and his daughter Mariane, played by Jacqueline Dandeneau, is wonderfully persistent. Ms. Dandeneau gives a winning performance as the naive daughter. Deborah Taylor-Barrera as Orgon's young wife is lively and sexy in the role. David Ferney who looks like an adult Spanky McFarland from the Our Gang comedies is a hoot as Valere who is in love with Mariane. Dimiter D. Marinov, with his lyrical Bulgarian accent (he is a graduate of the Bulgarian National Academy for Theatre and Cinema in Sofia), gives a proscribed and keen performance as Orgon's reasonable brother-in-law. Barbara Geary is excellent as the self-righteous mother of Orgon. Matthew Graham Smith is very good in role of Damis, son of Orgon.

Giulio Cesare Perrone has also designed an effective set of a 17th century up-market living room with high, gilt-trimmed, pale purple walls; it looks as if the play is being presented during the time of Molière. There are few set pieces so the actors can move freely about in an exaggerated manner. Composer and sound designer Tim Gray has incorporated a mixture of French baroque, Italian opera and even a modern salsa melody for the dance scene at the beginning and ending of the farce. As one character says of the latter, this is a new dance from "our colony in Cuba."

Tartuffe runs through December 10th at the Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-388-5208 or online at

The Marin Theatre Company's next production will be the Tony-winning Frozen by Bryony Lavery opening January 11 and running through February 11.

Photo: Ed Smith

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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