It takes quite some time for Tartuffe (Zach Grenier) to actually appear. He finally enters and hasn't much money but he has many a story. The sourpuss has worked his way into the good graces of Orgon (Michael Rudko). Orgon, a bourgeois mostly concerned about himself, has some money and he opens doors for Tartuffe who attempts seduction by forcing himself upon pretty Elmire (Christina Rouner,) Orgon's wife. This occurs despite the fact that Tartuffe has previously asked for the hand of Mariane (Michelle Beck), Orgon's daughter. Orgon chooses to give all of his belongings to Tartuffe. Ultimately, the title character is revealed to be a hypocrite and Tartuffe is undone.
Yale Rep has chosen the classic Richard Wilbur translation, which is clever and comedic. The end-rhymes are priceless and delicious. Virtually all of the acting is quite commendable and Sally Wingert as Dorine, Mariane's lady's-maid, delivers a most impressive performance. She's bold, silver-tongued and pointed in her critique of Tartuffe. She, Michael Rudko and Christina Rouner deserve specific praise.
What fully distinguishes the current rendering, though, are the combined effects of John Conklin's set design in conjunction with Alexandra Eaton's video. The production opens as Valere (Daniel Talbott) rests, stage left, upon an ornate, stylized bed (complete with canopy) - extreme stage left. There's a dog sitting on the bed, too, and Valere seems to be communicating with man's best friend.
Otherwise, we see what might, within contemporary society, be thought of as a museum viewing room – with two screens. On stage throughout most of the production is a videographer, who records the action. She shoots in documentary fashion and at times the results are most revealing. Initially, those theatergoers arriving a few moments before opening curtain are either amused or confused. A handsome young man of 17th century Paris pets a dog as others gather on the bed - which becomes an early focal. The actual play begins and one's eye is drawn in diverse directions. Should one watch the screen or the live theater? As the dialogue unfolds and the social commentary becomes more evident, one becomes more accustomed to the visual choices and selection is not an issue. In fact, the video enhances the entire affair. Fish successfully mixes a modern art gallery-like installation within a time period during which King Louis XIV reacted with fury to this particular work. It appears, by and large, that the king supported many of Moliere's other productions.
Karen Voyce's wardrobe selections are splendid additions. She adorns all with becoming colors of the time period. Those specializing in fashion will not be disappointed.
Moliere, the complete dramatist, was a man well-versed in all aspects of theater. Known for ability as a comic actor, it is said the he actually passed away with his make-up on. Tartuffe is a play which centers on any number of characters and provides great insight into Orgon. In fact, actor Michael Rudko takes the evening's final bow at the concluding curtain. Richard Wilbur, writing an introduction to his translation, says "Organ cherishes Tartuffe because, with the sanction of the latter's austere precepts, he can tyrannize over his family and punish them for possessing what he feels himself to be losing: youth, gaiety, strong natural desires."
Moliere would have championed Daniel Fish's vision and the inventive production of Tartuffe at Yale Rep.
Tartuffe, or the Imposter continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through December 22nd. For ticket and schedule information, call (203) 432-1234.
- Fred Sokol