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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Tartuffe
Shakespeare Theatre Company

Also see Susan's review of Newsies


Sofia Jean Gomez and Steven Epp
Molière wrote Tartuffe as an evisceration of religious hypocrisy, but he leavened the righteous fury with elements of farce and commedia dell'arte. Director Dominique Serrand takes a much darker approach in his production of the play for Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company, which while effective is off-putting in its relentlessness. This is a co-production with South Coast Repertory and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, both in California, and the cast is very comfortable with its nuances and excesses.

Serrand's production design is ascetic: he and Tom Buderwitz have devised a scenic design of plain walls and wooden furniture unadorned except by a tablecloth that conceals an actor in one scene. Marcus Dilliard's lighting design begins in pre-dawn dimness—actors are difficult to see as they walk downstage—and gradually builds and ebbs along with the day, with symbolic blasts of thunder and lightning to punctuate a point. Sonya Berlovitz's costumes provide the necessary color but they show little logic, blending an expansive blue satin gown with puffy knee-length skirts and 17th-century finery with a men's suit covered in embroidered flowers.

Orgon (Luverne Seifert) believes he's only following God's will in taking Tartuffe (Steven Epp) into his home. He sees Tartuffe as an exemplar of piety and, to that end, he's prepared to sacrifice everything to meet the man's needs. The rest of the family knows better: Dorine the outspoken maid (Suzanne Warmanen, delightfully tart) watches the "abstemious" holy man stuff himself with food and wine; and Cleante (Gregory Linington), brother of Orgon's wife Elmire (Sofia Jean Gomez), talks about the difference between true and false religious observance. Only assistance from the king—a rewrite on Molière's part resulting from censorship—ultimately can put the family to rights.

Epp last appeared at the Shakespeare Theatre in The Servant of Two Masters, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award. His performance as Tartuffe is similarly physical but undeniably threatening: the reptilian gleam in his eye, the way he slinks and slithers around the stage, his penchant for taking blasphemous poses. He's assisted by Nathan Keepers as a creepy, ever-present servant.

The other standout performance is Gomez, who conveys majesty and poise as she goes one-on-one with Tartuffe. Elmire and Dorine appear to be the only adults in this production as daughter Mariane (Lenne Klingaman) flounces, son Damis (Brian Hostenske) pouts, and Mariane's fiancé Valere (Christopher Carley) postures with self-conscious drama.

Epp and Serrand are co-artistic directors of The Moving Company, based in Minneapolis. Serrand has worked with many of the actors and designers throughout his career.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Tartuffe
June 2nd - July 5th
By Molière, adapted by David Ball
Valere: Christopher Carley
Tartuffe: Steven Epp
Elmire: Sofia Jean Gomez
Damis: Brian Hostenske
Laurent: Nathan Keepers
Mariane: Lenne Klingaman
Cleante: Gregory Linington
Madame Pernelle/Officer: Michael Manuel
Orgon: Luverne Seifert
Dorine: Suzanne Warmanen
Ensemble: Ross Destiche, Maria Leigh, Michael Litchfield, Stephanie Schmalzle
Directed by Dominique Serrand
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


Photo: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep



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