Fast-moving “Tartuffe” at Westport Playhouse
By Tom Nissley
There’s an excellent production of Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” an entertainment that was first produced for Louis XIV at Versailles in 1664, playing in modern dress at the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s presented in English, in a translation by Richard Wilbur that mimics the original French rhyming couplets and moves quickly through the famous tale of a con man pretending to be in holy orders but quite caught up in pleasure-seeking and deceit. David Kennedy directs, on a great set by Wilson Chin, that reflects the magnificent house of Orgon as if in a loft, combining the main entrance, salon, and chapel, with a series of doors that lead to the rest of the house and the all-important utility closet. The walls are decorated with a mural depicting medieval Paris, turned upside down.
The story of “Tartuffe” is uncomplicated, but becomes quite complicated. Orgon (beautifully played by Marc Nelson) and also his mother (the superb Patricia Connoly) have been taken in by Tartuffe (Marc Kudisch), who pretends to be a pious clergyman focused only on doing good in the busy city, who has, along with his servant (William Peden), taken refuge in Orgon’s house, where they may pray, rest, eat, and be catered to as token religious. Tartuffe is also willing to make sensuous approaches to Orgon’s beautiful wife, Elvira (Nadia Bowers). When caught in the act by Damis, the son of Orgon and Elmira (Justin Adams) Tartuffe admits to a certain humanity but the naïve Orgon kicks the boy out of the house and gives his estate to Tartuffe to support his good works. He also hopes to marry his daughter, Mariane (Charise Castro Smith) to Tartuffe, breaking her engagement to Valere (Matthew Amendt). When Elmira convinces Orgon to hide beneath a table and gets Tartuffe to repeat his advances to her, Orgon is finally convinced that Tartuffe is a fraud and attempts to throw him out, but Tartuffe reminds him that he has signed over his estate to Tartuffe, and that it is Orgon who will have to leave his house. When the bailiff comes to perform the eviction, tables are turned and there is a happy ending.
A key player in the comedy is Dorine, the maid, beautifully performed by Jeanine Serralles.
Costumes by Ilona Somogli were well done but sometimes added a mysterious bent to the characters for whom they were designed. Laurent, in particular, appeared to be in athletic gear, which cast a question of what kind of servant or companion he was meant to be. The question did not interfere with the enjoyment of the play.
“Tartuffe” has been extended to play through August 5. Tickets at WestportPlayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.