Review: Tartuffe (Canadian Stage)

The Stratford Festival production of Molière’s satirical play is currently on stage in Toronto

355 years ago, the Catholic Church considered Tartuffe so threatening to the moral fabric of society that they pressured the king of France into banning it’s performance. The two most satisfying facts about Canadian Stage‘s completely delightful production of the classic work, honestly, are these: this Tartuffe doesn’t remotely feel 355 years old and yet somehow it still feels dangerous.

Tartuffe is the story of a wealthy man (Orgon) who falls under the spell of a religious charlatan. That charlatan, Tartuffe, skillfully manipulates Orgon into giving him a variety of gifts and considerations while his family howls their protest. In Ranjit Bolt’s snappy new translation the play maintains it’s attentiveness to form – the lines are iambic octameter, which is so interesting it almost distracted me from the words at first; it is literally almost but one foot off the classic in every possible way. The verse does not constrain the dialogue, but makes it dance.

Most of the cast of this production transferred from a very successful run at Stratford over the summer and fall, and on opening night it showed. The physical comedy and nearly-choreographic blocking of some of the scenes is so sure and smooth that I lost myself in it completely. At one point in the first act I annoyed my row-neighbors by laugh-snorting into my program for…a little too long. And never have I appreciated the comedic potential of a box of Tic Tacs, but in the hands of Tom Rooney as Tartuffe they’re tremendous (and so is he).

Dorine, played by Akosua Amor-Adem, is the only newcomer to this cast, but you wouldn’t know that from how seamlessly she fits into the family drama unfolding before us. And, though I am not typically wild about “sassy but wise Black maid” characters, Amor-Adem could not have been more commanding in this role, and made it dimensional and robust in every possible good way. Graham Abbey as Orgon is somehow so completely resistant to any thought or idea outside of his own, that is to say Tartuffe’s, that he just sails like a very self-satisfied duck through his family’s very reasonable concerns and complaints. And though Maev Beatty as Elmire doesn’t have the stage time she deserves, she certainly uses it brilliantly when she does.

With this gifted cast, director Chris Abraham must have had a field day of possibility. There came a few moments where I expected I could predict what might happen, stagewise, and Abraham pulled something off I could not have anticipated. Though this Tartuffe has a hair-raising speed and trajectory, Abraham directs it like a proper roller-coaster – it’s thrillingly unpredictable, but never goes off the rails. And I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to salute costume designer Julie Fox (those white socks killed me) and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne who either already knew a lot about francophone funk, soul, and hip-hop or surely does now. I would have paid money for a playlist of the soundtrack.*

Overall, the Canadian Stage Tartuffe is absolutely everything you want in a re-interpreted classic – it’s snappy and stylish, inarguably dynamic, and still tender to the value (and values) of the original. There’s literally no one – not even the most gnarled curmudgeon of The Classics – to whom I would not recommend this, and I commend it doubly to you, dear reader. You’re going to have such a good time.

Details

  • Tartuffe is playing from January 13-27 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St E)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Thursday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. A few performances feature talkbacks.
  • Tickets $51-$111
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office or online. 
photo of Tom Rooney by Cylla von Tiedemann.
*Editor’s Note: Someone with the production has provided us with a link to a Spotify List with the music featured in the show.

 

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