From the Philadelphia Inquirer
Centuries later, a fresh Temple Rep ‘Tartuffe’
By Howard Shapiro
Sometimes, you just have to put your foot down – and 342 years ago when Molière’s spirited comedy Tartuffe finally opened after five years of threats from the Roman Catholic Church and the royal court, it was the women who took charge.
First comes the maid in the French household where the master, a numbskull named Orgon, has allowed a rotten, pious fraud named Tartuffe to take over by worshipping the man’s every utterance.
In the crisp, fluid rendering of Tartuffe by Temple University’s professional Repertory Theater, the maid is a strikingly insolent Genevieve Perrier, who spouts orders and insults in a charming French accent, all the while taking no prisoners. She tells Orgon, whose household is collapsing under the weight of Tartuffe’s holier-than-thou heft, that the two of them are idiots.
Then, in the play’s second half, Orgon’s wife, Elmire, becomes the enforcer, setting a sex trap to sting Tartuffe and reveal his hypocrisy to Orgon. Kate Czajkowski pulls off the character, and the sting, with the mettle of a woman forever satisfied in the knowledge that she’s right.
The two actresses nail their parts, but the real hero, the one who dug in his heels, is the playwright. An early version of Tartuffe, called The Imposter, debuted in 1664. When a good many members of the clergy and upper classes saw substantial pieces of their supposedly heavenly selves in the antagonist, they proceeded to raise holy hell. The play was banned.
Molière fleshed it out in a second version and then, in 1669, in the one we have today. All the while, he stood his ground; the final version was performed and was a success – and Molière was a genuine freedom fighter for theatrical expression.
Given all that, it’s a pleasure to see him honored by a production so meticulous, kinetic – and aptly modern. I’d expected a Tartuffe directed by the highly physical actor Emmanuelle Delpech to have people sprawled on the floor or running in unison to one side of the stage to show surprise, or generally siphoning the best parts of their characters by underscoring their extremes.
What I didn’t expect was the bright, lucid, mod translation by British playwright Ranjit Bolt, which he wrote about a decade ago, and which gives the play an urgency and keeps it in rhyme, as Molière wrote it in French. Tartuffe is a “creep” or “a piece of work” who “gives us all such grief.” The rhymes hang the street talk together with wit – among Molière’s trademarks.
The 13-member cast is up to the task and includes David Ingram as the clueless Orgon, Rob Kahn as Tartuffe, and young lovers played by Stefanee’ Martin and Robert Carlton 3d. James Sugg’s sound design helps swing the mood, and whiteface greasepaint on everyone emphasizes the clownish situation. Tartuffe himself is a master deceiver, but there’s no fraud here, just a fresh angle on a real Molière.
Philadelphia City Paper
Temple Repertory Theater's TartuffeDirector Emmanuelle Delpech's Tartuffe uses Ranjit Bolt's contemporary translation from Molière's 1669 French, making his bouncing rhyming couplets conversational. The text's poetic artificiality is amplified in Delpech's witty production, from its tiny white chairs to the whiteface makeup — sorta Barnum & Bailey, kinda Cabaret — which, along with inspired performances, make this classic fresh and fun.
David Ingram is terrific as the frantic Orgon, a successful family man transfixed by Tartuffe (Rob Kahn), a supposedly pious monk. His family sees through Tartuffe, which only steels Orgon's resolve: He promises his daughter Mariane (Stefanee' Martin) to him, and signs over all his wealth. Molière brilliantly builds Tartuffe's monstrous reputation for nearly half the play before allowing him on stage; when he finally enters, Kahn fulfills the role's challenges. It takes Tartuffe's attempted seduction of Orgon's wife, Elmire (Kate Czajkowski), to bring Orgon to his senses, leading to more hilarity that Delpech stages with musical-comedy brio.
Everything surrounding these high-energy performances works brilliantly: James Sugg's sly sound design, which underscores some scenes in a filmic style and frames the play with Elvis Presley's suddenly ironic "There's No God but God"; Jamie Grace-Duff's costumes, which vividly exaggerate characters, like Orgon's mustard-ugly suit, Mariane's schoolgirl uniform and boyfriend Valere's (Robert Carlton III) Napoleon Dynamite nerdiness; and Boylen's unique touch, a life-size crucifix decorated with the word "believe" in three parts, stressing the word "lie."
Guest of Dishonor : "Tartuffe" Comes to Temple
In its construction, Moliere’s classic comedy Tartuffe is pure neoclassicism, a style of theater that was all the rage in 17th-century France. In line with the rigid rules of this particular type of acting, Temple Repertory Theater’s production strictly adheres to the unities of time and place. All the action takes place in a single room over the course of a single day.
The room is in the house belonging to Orgon (the versatile David Ingram), who has recently become enamored with a deeply religious (or so he thinks) con man named Tartuffe (an appropriately duplicitous Rob Kahn). A man of considerable wealth, Orgon is impressed by Tartuffe’s apparent disinterest in material goods. “His poverty is what I prize/It elevates him in my eyes,” explains Orgon. The other members of the household (with the exception of Orgon’s mother Madame Pernelle) see Tartuffe for the charlatan he is. “He is performing all the time/A sort of pious pantomime,” rightly observes Orgon’s opinionated maid Dorine (a sassy Genevieve Perrier).
Temple Repertory eschews Richard Wilbur’s 1963 version—which is moderately graceful in its attempt to translate Moliere’s Alexandrine rhyme scheme (12 syllable lines with each pair of adjacent lines rhyming) but also lifeless—in favor of the wonderfully coarse, colloquial and very amusing 1982 translation by Ranjit Bolt. Uninterested in historical accuracy, Bolt’s contemporary version allows a director room to exercise their interpretative skills. The result is that instead of the usual mummified Tartuffe (most productions treat the play as an artifact from a distant era), Director Emmanuelle Delpech’s production makes Moliere’s 17th-century classic seem practically new.
Without dramatically altering the play, Delpech takes Moliere’s topic of religious hypocrisy and applies it to contemporary American politics, specifically the upcoming 2012 presidential election and the current field of Republican candidates.
A longtime collaborator with the dance-clown-theater ensemble Pig Iron Theatre Company, Delpech’s playful Tartuffe isn’t as experimental as her work with Pig Iron. There are elements of clowning (the actors wear white paint on their faces) but the production is noted more for its efficiency than its theatrical ingenuity.
What the production lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in playfulness. Most of the actors are comfortable with the show’s cartoonish quality (evoked nicely in Jamie Grace-Duff’s colorful costumes), with the exception of Kate Czajkowski, who portrays Orgon’s wife Elmire. One of the area’s best performers of realism, Czajkowski excels at revealing the emotional depth of characters that are outwardly reserved. But there is nothing reserved about Elmire and Czajkowski struggles to adopt the playful mood established by Delpech.
Ganier’s Madame Pernelle is a treacherously naïve woman who bludgeons those she views as morally corrupt. Sounding like a particularly rancid version of Tea Party favorite Michelle Bachmann, she chastises the other members of the household for their parties and social gatherings. “You stand on shaky moral ground/The mode of life that you expound/Is one that no one should pursue/(No decent person in my view).”
Orgon—who in his inability to maintain a position is a gullible version of Mitt Romney—adopts Tartuffe’s narrow-minded sense of morality. However, in Ingram’s fascinating performance, Orgon is less interested in salvation than he is in establishing himself as the dictatorial leader of the household. He is a weak, uncertain man, comically credulous and easily swayed in his opinions.
Moliere employs an absurd contrivance to provide us with a happy ending (which in TRT’s production includes the appearance of a hero sporting an Obama T-shirt), but at a time in American politics when hypocrisy reigns supreme and religion is used as a weapon, Delpech’s production serves as an effective warning against false prophets and their brand of moral certitude.