A Noise Within opens its Spring 2014 season with the classical theater company’s own distinctive take on Molière’s classic French farce Tartuffe*, and though not the inspired revival audiences were treated to in Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Beaux Stratgem, this entertaining if at times overly dark production does at the very least make relevant points about the hypocrisy, greed, and corruption of (at least certain members of) the clergy.
Though we don’t meet Tartuffe’s title character (Freddy Douglas) until well into the production’s overly long first act, the man also known as “The Imposter” has, we soon realize, infiltrated himself into the good graces of Orgon (Geoff Elliott) and his mother Madame Pernelle (Jane Macfie).
Once the swindler’s first entrance is made, it doesn’t take long for this former vagrant turned pious fraud to make abundantly clear that he has more than mischief in mind. Tartuffe plans not only to seduce Orgon’s wife and daughter but to take ownership of his host’s entire fortune and property in the process.
Orgon’s family members are, not surprisingly, concerned about Tartuffe’s influence over their patriarch and grand-mère. These include Orgon’s shapely young wife Elmire (Carolyn Ratteray), his brother-in-law Cléante (Stephen Rockwell), his daughter Marianne (Alison Elliott), his son Damis (Mark Jacobson), and Marianne’s intended Valère (Rafael Goldstein), with busty, cigarette-smoking housemaid Dorine (Deborah Strang) observing and commenting on all of the above.
Completing the cast of characters are bailiff Monsieur Loyal (William Dennis Hunt, who doubles as an officer of the King) and Madame Pernelle’s housemaid Filipote (Elisabeth Morgan), with ensemble members Erin McDonnell, Caitlin Parks, Elizabeth Parmenter, Saundra Montijo, and Madeline Russell performing various servants’ tasks.
Though Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directs with considerable flair, the performances she has elicited can at times be as all over the place as the production’s fabulous if era-defying costumes and wigs, the former by Angela Balogh Calin and the latter by Caity Hawksley.
Take for instance Geoff Elliott’s flamboyantly full-of-himself Orgon, whose over-the-topness (and over-the-“fopness”) seems from a different play than Rockwell’s subtly played, naturalistic Cléante, and much as I am a fan of ANW’s handsome resident Brit, I couldn’t help wishing that Douglas’s Tartuffe had displayed a bit more of the charm and sex appeal that would have made him so irresistible to the household he’s come to control. (It doesn’t help that Hawksley’s hair and makeup design up this Tartuffe’s “ick” factor.)
And what’s up with having the esteemed Hunt play the King’s officer as the MC of a Vegas or Follies Bergere revue, microphone in hand and disco ball above? Funny, yes, but this is one ANW offering where a more unified vision might have made for a a more completely satisfying production.
Additional comedy snaps are due Tartuffe’s signature scene, one of the wildest would-be seductions ever, with Elmire contriving to get Tartuffe to put the moves on her as her husband waits patiently (albeit uncomfortably) under the table on which the planned seduction is to take place. (The gorgeous Rattaray shines particularly brightly in this scene.)
Scenic designer Frederica Nascimento has come up with a striking if not all that lovely-to-look-at set, which Ken Booth lights with accustomed panache. Robert Oriol merits highest marks for his jaunty original music, Emily Lehrer for her topnotch sound design, and Kristina Teves for her myriad props.
Juliana McBride is stage manager and Samantha Sintef is assistant stage manager.
Tartuffe opens A Noise Within’s third spring in its Pasadena home, a season of classics which will continue with Elijah Alexander and Jules Willcox as Lord and Lady “The Scottish Play” and ANW treasure Strang stepping into Shirley Booth’s shoes in Come Back Little Sheba.
Though not the uniformly delectable treat I might have wished for, A Noise Within’s Tartuffe does prove an enjoyable introduction or return visit to the Molière classic.
*1977 English translation by Richard Wilbur
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.
March 2, 2014
Photos: Craig Schwartz