by Dana Lacey
When, one by one, I asked my friends to come see East Side Player’s production of Tartuffe by Molière, I didn’t get one taker. Maybe they were scared off by the foreign title and powdered wigs, or were worried that Molière was too 16th-century to be entertaining.
Tartuffe, it turns out, is an insanely sarcastic satire that attacks just about everything you’d like to see attacked–hypocrites, government, dogma, patriarchs and, of course, the ignorant masses. The audience (mostly silver haired) got really into it, cheering as their favourite characters wandered onstage. Didn’t take long to realize why: after getting hit with the first zinger of the night, I didn’t stop laughing till the curtains fell.
It doesn’t matter that it was written four hundred years ago: David Nicholson’s translation–from French to English, from rhyming couplets to conversation–makes the dialogue accessible to french theatre ignorami like myself (Jeopardy time: Molière is the don’t-arrest-me name of Jean Baptiste Poquelin, a french playwright/master of social comedy. Tartuffe is his most famous and shit-disturbing play. It was originally censored by the same painfully devout people he was criticizing.)
I went to the show solo, but wanted to keep in the spirit of this site and offer you more than my own opinion. So I befriended the grandmotherly woman beside me during intermission, which she took as invitation to spend the rest of the play whispering half-coherent director’s notes in my ear. (She studied Tartuffe in college, in French even, dontchaknow. I, on the other hand, had never heard of it. Kids today!) She assured me that the translation stays true to the essence of the original, and loved Daryn DeWalt as the pompous wimp/overbearing father, Orgon. We both spent most of the night laughing at the actors’ antics, especially Robert Ouellette playing a very convincingly smarmy Tartuffe.
The quick-n-dirty: It’s the freewheelin’ 1660s, all high heels and lace hankies. Orgon is the head of his household–stubborn, boiling with anger and rather gullible. Tartuffe is a manipulative, penniless creep that cons the non-too-bright Orgon into thinking him a wise, devoutly religious confident whose advice comes straight from god (and can be paid for in food and wine.) He turns Orgon against his family, imposing his own commandments while trying to seduce his wife. Orgon grants him the deed to his estate out of pure trust. The family members see through the mask and stage hilariously elaborate ruses to reveal Tartuffe’s true character, but Orgon is to proud to see that he’s blindly following a false prophet. Over and over, he asks, “What will people think? What will people SAY?”
Mix in some brilliant one-liners (“this house is a disgusting display of democracy run wild”), some great speeches and amazing performances from the entire cast. It’s hard to pick a favourite character: Orgon’s brother-in-law Cléante, played by Michael Posthumus, offers up ideological speeches about how a man SHOULD act, spun with humour and wisdom, while Jane Hunter as Dorine, the family maid/fool of the play, snipes Orgon with sarcastic little asides in hopes he’ll take responsibility for his own ridiculousness.
Molière wasn’t exactly subtle in his satire, so you don’t have to use much brain power to get the point he’s trying to make. To find out if Orgon gets his house back, learns any life lessons or gets over his fear of gossip, watch this play. Will Tartuffe the hypocrite get his comeuppance? Only one way to find out (two if you know how to Google). It’s timely no matter when you see it, but I’d go see it right now.
You’ll bust a gut, and maybe even learn something.
– Tartuffe runs until November 15 at the Papermill Theatre (Pottery Rd., Todmorden Mills site)
– Shows Wed – Sat at 8pm
– Ticket prices are $18 general admission and $12 for students, and are available at the box office at 416-425-0917 or online.
Photo by John McQueen and Susan McQueen