Reviewed by Joan Tupponce
Virginia Rep is keeping with the tone of the Acts of Faith Festival with its current production of Moliere’s Tartuffe at The Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre. Written in 1664, this French farce is as relevant today as it was in the seventeeth century. The comedy takes a jab at hypocrisy, especially in religion where holier-than-thou takes on a new meaning.
The plot is one that has repeated itself through time. In this case, Orgon and his mother have fallen victims to the trickery of Tartuffe, a charismatic fraud who pretends to be pious. But, Orgon’s wife, children, and confidants see through Tartuffe for what he is – a con man hell-bent on reaping the rewards of his ruse. They try desperately to convince Orgon that Tartuffe is a fraud but find it a hopeless cause.
It isn’t until Orgon’s wife, Elmire, decides to trick the trickster and pretends to have feelings for Tartuffe so he will expose himself – both literally and figuratively – to Orgon who is hiding under a table. When Orgon finally realizes just what Tartuffe is and what he has been doing, he tries to oust Tartuffe. But Orgon had signed over the deed to his house as well as his daughter’s hand in marriage and had trusted him with other papers that Tartuffe is now using to his deceitful benefit.
Will Orgon and his family be able to claim what’s rightly theirs? You’ll have to see the play to find out.
Director Bruce Miller has brought an extra spark of playfulness to this classic production. The antics on stage bring rounds of laughter especially when Tartuffe in heated passion drops his trousers to the floor. The subtle nuances from the actors are as well received as the slapstick-style comedy that abounds.
Tartuffe is the type of play that requires your full attention. Actors speak in fast, rhymed verse, which is often difficult to understand. The first act of the play sets up the plot. The second act explodes with hilarity and irony. The use of current day footage of tainted evangelists alongside Tartuffe, who seems as though he has slipped into a backlit painting, speaks volumes.
The cast demonstrates a great ability to play off one another. The action moves along at a quick pace without falter. There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Each actor has a shining moment on stage.
Eva DeVirgilis brings both subtly and great comedic timing to her role as Orgon’s cunning wife. Her interactions with Tartuffe are downright hilarious. Joe Pabst convinces us that Orgon can be easily duped by giving his character an over-the-top comic persona.
Debra Wagoner plays the spirited, outspoken housemaid Dorine with terrific skill and honesty. Ryan Bechard takes on the role of the swindling Tartuffe with great enthusiasm and artistry. His performance will leave a lasting impression in more ways than one.
Adding to the stellar performances are the magnificent costumes designed by Sue Griffin and Brian Barker’s breathtaking set.
Tartuffe is a fun romp. Because there is some nudity, it is not appropriate for kids under the age of sixteen. The actor will wear underclothes for student matinees. The play runs through March 9 at November Theatre.
Visit Virginia Repertory Theatre: Tartuffe, 2014 for showtimes, tickets, info on rush tickets, and U-Tix for college and high school students.