Review: Tartuffe (Soulpepper)

Tartuffe, the classic French comedy, is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto

Tartuffe, the classic French comedy by Molière originally premiered in 1664, is one of the world’s most famous comedies to ever be performed on the stage. In fact, it was become so popular that the term “Tartuffe” has made its way into both English and French dictionaries and is defined as “a religious hypocrite, or a hypocritical pretender to excellence of any kind.”

Taking to the stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts and translated into English by Richard Wilbur, the diligent cast at Soulpepper have breathed vitality and tenacity into this already fast paced and physically demanding play for two and a half hours of seriously funny theatre.

Soulpepper veteran Diego Matamoros plays Tartuffe, a poor vagrant pretending to be a pious man of the cloth who seeks refuge in Orgon’s (Oliver Dennis) home. Though Orgon is convinced of Tartuffe’s disguise going so far as to promise his daughter Mariane (Kat Gauthier) to him in marriage, the rest of the family is far from fooled — especially as Tartuffe attempts to seduce Orgon’s wife Ermine (Raquel Duffy).

Right off the bat, my theatre companion Kandace and I were struck by how physical the comedy was. There’s not a dull moment on stage from the fly-off-the-handle temper of Colin Palangio as Damis, Orgon’s son, to the incredibly well-timed and choreographed counter-seduction and entrapment scene between Matamoros, Dennis and Duffy that had the audience cackling with laughter. Then there were the silent antics of Laurent (Frank Cox-O’Connell), whose executions and timings of his choice entrances and exits were brilliant. Fight director Simon Fon has done great work here.

On top of that, the comedy — in particular, the use of sarcasm — is well performed. I was particularly drawn to Oyin Oladejo as Orgon’s family servant Dorine. She takes on a significantly large role in the production acting as the glue that keeps the family from falling apart at the seams. To maintain that role, her Oladejo’s character has reservoirs of audacity and strength that is often unseen within the help. She uses that strength greatly to her benefit and the choice words she has saved up for Tartuffe cut like a knife.

Lorenzo Savoini’s set was also something that caught my attention — mobile gray walls created Organ’s home and the ease of the piece’s movements allowed characters to make a show of sticking their head into the scene to eavesdrop. The otherwise basic furniture was draped over by luscious printed fabrics that were thrown off, replaced, and constantly moved adding to the lively flow of the scene.

My one caveat and the one bit that didn’t gel with me was the use of the wardrobe rolling racks and the flurry in the beginning of each act of the actors throwing on costumes. I understand that it reminds the audience that, yes indeed, they are watching a play, but with the nature of the performance, it doesn’t feel necessary.

The last bit that sold me on this performance, and why I say Tartuffe is worth seeing, is the the final ending scene. I won’t say what happens, but there’s a manner of blunt comedy that the likes of Joss Whedon has adapted many times as the ending cues for his works. In the context of Tartuffe, it’s sheer genius.

Details:

  • Tartuffe is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until September 20.
  • See website for specific performance dates, performance times are at 7:30 pm with matinees starting at 1:30 pm.
  • Ticket prices range from $29 – $74 and can be purchased online up to 90 minutes prior to scheduled show time. Tickets can also be purchased by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or by visiting in person.

Photo of Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis and Raquel Duffy by Cylla von Tiedemann

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