Also see Bob's review of Robeson in Space
This opening scene has not been invented by the good folks at the Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown, but is actually an adaptation of a delightful short piece by Moliere himself bearing the title The Versailles Impromptu (L’Impromptu de Versailles). Here, impromptu refers to a short dramatic sketch, a miniature comedy in prose. Premiered in 1663, this impromptu is not only delightful in its own right, but it sheds light on Moliere and his toadying to his patron, Louis XIV, in plays such as Tartuffe. It is satisfying to see Moliere neatly skewering himself (at least in the Miles Malleson adaptation seen here). Centenary tells us that back in the 17th century, Versailles was routinely performed as a curtain riser to the 1664 Tartuffe. It has been performed as a prelude to other Moliere plays now and again, but it certainly fits hand in glove here as a prelude to Centenary’s main event.
For those new to Tartuffe (ou l’Imposteur) a brief summary is in order. Fueled by foolish piety, the wealthy Orgon has taken the falsely sanctimonious (a double negative that doesn’t make a positive) Tartuffe into his home in order to set an example for his family. With the sole exception of Orgon’s foolish old mother, the rest of the family is in an uproar over the ascension of the unctuous Tartuffe. In short order, Tartuffe sexually forces himself upon Orgon’s young wife, Elmire; Orgon betroths his daughter Mariane to Tartuffe; and Orgon cedes all his worldly goods to Tartuffe. When, in the production’s most hilarious scene, Elmire exposes Tartuffe’s lechery and hypocrisy to Orgon, Tartuffe, now the property’s owner, orders the entire family from the house. Who can save the day? The answer lies in the Impromptu.
While there is nothing ground breaking or unusual in the direction and performances, the Centenary Tartuffe is lively, sufficiently inventive and largely well acted. Carolyn Coulson-Grigsby is an especial delight as the maid, Dorine. As the servant, wiser and more direct than her nominal masters, it is delightful to see her reactions as she explores Orgon’s pious worship of Tartuffe blot out any concern for his own family. This scene, subtly but strongly, underscores Moliere’s scorn for the religious.
Amanda Baker as Orgon’s wife, Elmire, retains her poise and grace while leading farceurs Osborn Focht (Tartuffe) and Robert Grossman (Orgon) through the traces in the aforementioned scene in which she exposes Tartuffe to Orgon. The farceurs are both most amusing as they mine all the humor in their roles without overplaying them.
Other notable contributions are made by Colleen Smith Wallnau as Orgon’s prattling mother and Steven L. Barron as his sensible and sensitive brother. I hate to be a scold about this, but not for the first time, a Centenary production is marred by the casting in a featured role of a Centenary College student who is too inexperienced to pass muster when appearing with seasoned professionals.
As with last season’s production of Sheridan’s The Rivals, director Carl Wallnau here displays a sure hand in keeping a centuries old comedy lively and relevant while preserving its classic feel. Wallnau is ably abetted by set designer Will Rothfuss and costume designer Sandi King.
Tartuffe, together with its impromptu curtain riser, nicely provides an amusing and intelligent evening’s entertainment for Hackettstown audiences.
Tartuffe continues performances (Eves.: Thurs. 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Mats. Sun. 2:30 p.m./ Wed. 10/19 – 11 AM) through October 23, 2005 at Centenary Stage, on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, 07840. Box Office: 908-979-0900. online www.centenarystageco.org/
Tartuffe by Moliere, adapted by Miles Malleson; directed by Carl