Molière’s “Tartuffe” is Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s (STNJ) season opening play for 2018 and it is spot-on fantastic, from the first moments, when Madame Pernelle (Vivian Reed)—who should perhaps be Madame Harridan—is giving her son’s family a tongue lashing, clearly a regular occurrence, by the eye rolling that is audible in her daughter-in-law Elmire (Caroline Kinsolving), her other son Cléante (William Sturdivant), grandchildren Mariane (Sarah Nicole Deaver) and Damis (Aaron McDaniel), and Mariane’s lady’s maid and confidante Dorine (Victoria Mack). Madame Pernelle’s benighted attendant Flipote (Delia Bannon) seeks oblivion, through slumber, to escape the constant harangue and is rewarded with a sharp tattoo of a fan–the 18th century women’s weapon of choice. The topic?: the most wonderful Tartuffe, a house guest of Orgon (Patrick Toon), who has clearly hoodwinked the master of the house, and his Mum. Tartuffe, according to the dowager, is the model of propriety by which all other should be measured. Orgon shares this opinion, but by the fizz and fire in the scion of the house, Damis appears to be on the verge of a break down in his apoplexy. Madame Pernelle takes her leave and the sideshow begins.
While featuring many new faces, we know and love Orgon, who seeks to bind the as-yet-unseen Tartuffe to his family by marrying off Mariane, a father’s prerogative at that time. Body, soul, and beating heart, Mariane belongs solely to Valère (Mark Hawkins). They have a nice bit of lover’s quarrel, with treacly making up, that sets their tone and, when Tartuffe (Brent Harris) finally makes his appearance, we are well and truly off to the races.
STNJ does many things so well–the casting is always superb and Reed’s matriarch is fire and sass. Madame Pernelle is as thoroughly modern as she is of her time. Richard Wilbur’s translation retains the poetry of Molière, while the cast illuminates the rhymes, and interprets them so gently, that we’re not cognizant of them, except as a delightful bit of spice. Nikki Delhomme’s costumes give us the times and the personality of each character–Valère’s rusty dreadlocks harmonize with his salmon colored suit, linking him with Mariane’s warm rose. But the neatest bit of flair comes with Tartuffe’s blonde wig and cassock-like coat. The coat reminds us of his religious affectations, while his wig screams “Game of Thrones’” Viserys Targaryen. And we all know how Viserys ended up, making this a neat bit of foreshadowing, for those who are not familiar with the story of Tartuffe.
The comic antics of Mariane and her brother Damis are pure acetylene energy, with Mack’s Dorine as the perfect foil, and it’s interesting how the calm center that is Elmire could have combined with the stern cluelessness of Orgon to create such offspring. Comic moments abound, yet this is not a show for children. The multi-layered action brings together #MeToo with political overtones too numerous to mention. I found myself laughing in spite of myself and, the more connected you are to current events, both fresh and historic, you will find this “Tartuffe” a multi-faceted delight you will need to see more than once. How fortunate that the run has been extended.
Bonnie Monte’s brilliant direction gave me flashbacks to November 2016, as well as rumblings of the present day injustices that we seem to be suffering. Until Monsieur Loyal (Drew Dix) and the King’s Officer (Garret Gray) arrive, we see Orgon and his family circling the drain as their house, their worldly everything, is taken by this charlatan Tartuffe. Will their way of life be restored? You will need to see for yourself, and you’ll love every moment.
for tickets and more details! This show runs, in Madison NJ, only through June 10, so get tickets now for your choice of seats. This “Tartuffe” is right NOW!