Having fun at the theater is a guilty pleasure for those of us taught to behave ourselves, and laughing out loud is a welcome release from the cares of the week. “Tartuffe,” Molière’s broadly comic play about those pious souls who are dazed and confused by the Church, was banned when it was new. If they banned it, you know it’s good.
The Adobe’s production of “Tartuffe” is on the money when it comes to exposing false piety. Orgon (Timothy Kupjack, in a leading role for a change) has subjected his family to the presence of houseguest Tartuffe (Rod Harrison), who Orgon believes is a poor man down on his luck and all the holier for it. In truth, Tartuffe is out to yank Orgon’s estate out from under him and his family. Orgon takes in the seemingly self-effacing Tartuffe over the protestations of all, especially the servant, Dorine (Angela Littleton, with perfect diction), who engages Orgon in witty banter and argues with him constantly over his devotion to this hustler.
Mme. Pernelle (the hilarious Alaina Warren Zachary) is Orgon’s mother, completely taken in by Tartuffe, until she is shown the awful proof of his duplicity. Orgon’s friend Cleante (Ruben Muller) and Orgon’s rightful heir, his son Damis (Caleb Ramsell), can see right through the would-be usurper.
So can Orgon’s wife, Elmire (the lovely Fawn Hanson), when Tartuffe makes a lewd proposition to her. It is by this farcical device—husband hiding under the table, wife seducing the seducer on top of the table—that Tartuffe’s real motivations are revealed.
There is a subplot that adds a bit more tension to the family squabbles: Orgon’s daughter Marianne (Symone Platania) wants to marry the dashing young Valere (Colin Stapleton), but is sentenced by her father to marriage with the loathsome Tartuffe. Robert Baca is able as the Officer who finally hauls Tartuffe away.
Director Mario Cabrera gives his actors free rein to display over-the-top characters as befits a farce. They are having fun up there, and so are we. That the audience is in on Tartuffe’s treachery is half the fun. This hard-working ensemble is the other half. Cabrera understands the parallels to our own place and time, making this “Tartuffe” relevant as well as a hoot.
Costume Designer Sharon Welz gorgeously outfits the women and does a credible job with the men. This version of the play has been commuted to the post-Civil War South, so hoop skirts and crinolines abound. The stage is barely big enough to contain all of them. Praise to Stage Manager Elizabeth Langston for overseeing the comings and goings and flouncings.
—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com
Photos by Dan Ware.