URI’s marvelous take on Tartuffe

Hilarity and hypocrisy
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  February 29, 2012

Tartuffe_main
COMPLICATED COUPLINGS Boucher, Khoshatefeh, Wozniak, and Bailey.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" — that phrase may not have found widespread popularity until the 19th century, but French playwright and satirist Molière understood it well. Perhaps his most famous play (from 1664) is Tartuffe, which features a pompous head of household taken in by a cunning charlatan, whose oft-proclaimed religious piety is matched only by his moral depravity and his hyper-drive hypocrisy. It's being given a dynamite run by the URI Theatre (through March 4).

Veteran Gamm actor Tom Gleadow directs a fine group of 13 students, not only training them to deliver the rhymed couplets of Ranjit Bolt's 2002 translation but giving them amazing physical business to accompany their lines. From a proffered palm or a tilt of the head to wild chases around a table or through the audience, the physicality turns downright gymnastic in spots, contributing greatly to the hilarity, with nary a syllable dropped.

Miles Boucher is terrific as Orgon, the husband whom the purported Christian zealot Tartuffe (Birk Wozniak) completely flim-flams. Through furrowed brow and pointed finger, foot-stomps and thrown-back shoulders, Boucher conveys Orgon's attempt to hold his own in the face of his family's tirades against Tartuffe. He is equally adept at inhabiting the tricky phrases he must speak and at being funny and melodramatic without letting us see the technique behind it.

The latter two qualities are difficult for any actor, but Boucher and Wozniak accomplish it with aplomb. Both must keep us interested in the delusions and deceptions of their character, while maintaining the breakneck pace of Bolt's writing and Gleadow's direction. Wozniak's facial expressions are as subtle as Boucher's: Tartuffe's deviousness does not harbor evil or meanness per se, just as Orgon's wooly-headedness does not point to his stupidity as such. Wozniak gets across Tartuffe's determination to play out his con as a cynical society might expect him to. And Boucher shows that when Orgon finally realizes he has been a fool, he still hopes that he can set things right and be forgiven.

His son, Damis, and his brother-in-law Cleante are given good comic portrayals by Samuel Appleman and T.S. McCormick, respectively, each frustrated that he can't make Orgon see the light. The women of Orgon's household — wife Elmire (Julia Bailey), daughter Mariane (Emily Foster), and housemaid Dorine (Olivia Khoshatefeh) — try to talk sense into him as well, though his domineering mother, Madame Pernelle (Alex Maynard) is also duped by Tartuffe.

Khoshatefeh, Foster, and Bailey warm to their roles, becoming more comfortable in creating their characters as the play progresses. Foster gets across Mariane's dilemma of obeying her father through a betrothal to Tartuffe or following her heart with Valere (Andrew Burnap, who strikes just the right balance of dewy-eyed lover and quaking suitor). Khoshatefeh and Foster are also strong, bringing out the assertiveness and ribaldry of Bolt's words.

Indeed his translation, a bit controversial after Richard Wilbur's lively but faithful 1963 version, throws in many a contemporary phrase — "catch my drift," "covert operation," "young buck" — with swear words galore — "crap," "horseshit," "Goddamn you." Just the thing for a college production.

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  Topics: Theater , University of Rhode Island, Tom Gleadow, URI Theatre,  More more >
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