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Cedar Lane Stage Tartuffe

By • May 13th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Tartuffe
Cedar Lane Stage
Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, Bethesda, MD
$15/$13 Seniors/$10 Students
Playing through May 30th
Reviewed May 10th, 2009

Cedar Lane Stage has staged a refreshing and delightful production of Tartuffe. Director Ed Starr has assembled a talented cast of newcomers and seasoned professionals to tackle the difficult but beautiful language of Moliere’s no holds barred comedic look at 17th century French society.

The story is timeless…Orgon, a wealthy landowner, is completely taken in by a seemingly pious man of the cloth, Tartuffe. Tartuffe has alienated most of Orgon’s family and friends with his posturing, but that is apparently one of his more endearing qualities. In reality, he is after Orgon’s wife, daughter, and worldly possessions. Through a series of trials and tribulations, his schemes are unveiled and all ends happily.

The theatre in the round staging was successful in some aspects, but levels were definitely needed. Utilizing the stage’s steps and adding a few pieces of furniture would have given a nice dimension to the lengthy scenes. Starr created some lovely tableaus, however. The period costumes (Sandy Eggleston) were well done (but hide the zippers, please!), and added a vibrant splash of color with each entrance.

Louis Pangaro was absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of Orgon, garnering laughs and sympathy as he’s taken in by Tartuffe. He is evenly matched by Malinda Smith as his wife, Elmire…Smith relishes the rhyming couplets with confidence and style. Molly Coyle and Dan Guy as the young lovers Marianne & Valere are absolutely charming and adorable, with terrific rapport. Aly Ettman as the long-suffering maid Dorine had a natural, down to earth delivery and good comedic timing, but could have explored the more mischievous side of her character. Leah Mazade hit her mark as family matriarch Mme Pernelle, and Jack Wassell‘s cameo as the Baliff was an unexpected joy.

The first scene between Tartuffe and Elmire lacked the cat and mouse element that makes it so wonderful, but they made up for it later during the intended seduction.

Unfortunately, due to a last minute replacement, a crucial performer was greatly struggling with lines. If it’s a cameo role, using a script isn’t a big deal. But when the struggle is palpable, and it interferes with the overall integrity of the production, other steps must be taken. Delaying the opening or cutting the run short are much better options than what was witnessed at the Sunday matinee. With rhyming couplets, ad libbing isn’t a viable option…the rest of the show is too good to have it compromised in this way.

That said, this issue will no doubt be resolved with the remaining six performances…and it’ll be well worth the ticket price. It’s a funny look at life that’s as relevant today as it was in past centuries.

Director’s Note

Tartuffe is a comedy about: an imposter, a consummate fraud, a brilliant con man.

The great literary tradition of imposters/frauds/confidence men and women includes Elmer Gantry, Starbuck (in The Rainmaker,) Henry Gondorf and Johnny Hooker (in The Sting,) and all of Shakespeare’s women who portray men; Tartuffe is in good company.

Tartuffe is a “pious fraud” who preys on the insecurities of the head of a well-established family. For some the road to heaven is paved with good intentions and deeds — others try to find a guide who knows a short cut.

Moliere first presented Tartuffe to King Louis XIV of France in 1664. Because of opposition from various church sects the King prohibited its public performance. Moliere revised the script three times before it was acceptable for production in 1669. It has been produced regularly for the past 340 years.

The play is set in the home of Orgon who is a wealthy merchant. Tartuffe the con man succeeds magnificently in conniving to win the respect and devotion of the head of the house. Tartuffe tries to marry Orgon’s daughter, seduce his wife, and steal all of Orgon’s property.

He nearly gets away with it until…

The play has all the elements of a modern situation comedy: a dysfunctional family, a rapacious scheming visitor, young lovers, the clear-eyed maid, a blustering mother-in-law, and the ultimate triumph of virtue embodied by the appearance of the King’s messenger.

The show is fast paced, the writing is brilliant, and Moliere’s comments on his seventeenth century French society resonate across to our twenty-first century American culture. After all who among us is immune from believing what we want to hear? How often have we have been shocked and disappointed by the failings of those we admired?

I hope you enjoy our production as much as we did in creating it for you. Also, really enjoy the rhymed couplets.

Ed Starr

Cast

  • Mme Pernell: Leah Mazade
  • Dorine: Aly Ettman
  • Damis: Alex Diehl
  • Marianne: Molly Coyle
  • Elmire: Malinda Smith
  • Valere: Dan Guy
  • Cleante: Ted Culler
  • Orgon: Louis Pangaro
  • Tartuffe: Jim Lathan
  • Loyal, Baliff: Jack Wassell
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