A stellar cast and a robust `Tartuffe'

Luxurious costumes and a jewel of a set help tell Moliere's tale of human foibles

Review

May 05, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bay Theatre Company transports its audience to 17th-century Paris with its production of Moliere's masterwork Tartuffe.

Dressed in luxurious, ornate period costumes designed by Jill Kyle-Keith and placed in designer Dave Buckler's gold-trimmed jewel of a set, Bay's stellar cast brought robust life to this classic.

In Richard Wilbur's 1963 elegant and accessible translation, the 10 actors negotiated the play's poetic language without being constrained by it as they told this tale of human foibles.

Wealthy and gullible master of the house Orgon believes that his eternal salvation hinges on his houseguest, a priest named Tartuffe, who wants to steal all of his host's worldly possessions - including his wife.

Orgon's brother-in-law, Cleante, the lady's maid, Dorine, and Orgon's wife, Elmire, however, all see Tartuffe clearly.

As Tartuffe is gradually exposed, the comedy intensifies with Orgon giving the priest his entire estate, even offering his daughter, Mariane, in marriage to make his houseguest his son-in-law.

In the opening scene, director Lucinda Merry-Browne sets the tone for a romp of a play by having family members and servants rapidly circling Orgon's visiting mother as she says they are unworthy to criticize the saintly Tartuffe.

Rena Cherry Brown creates a Mme. Pernelle who is a tyrannical, disapproving mother and an imperious, irritating old woman who dismisses everything that doesn't conform to her religious agenda.

Her daughter-in-law, Elmire (Elizabeth Webster Duke), her grandson, Damis (Paul Baron), granddaughter, Mariane (Genna Davidson), Cleante (Timothy Andres Pabon), and Mariane's maid, Dorine (Janet Luby), deliver rapid-fire protestations in rhythm with their frantically paced march around the inlaid floor medallion.

Each role is beautifully cast, from the rather insignificant one of Orgon's mother to more major characters.

Nigel Reed creates an Orgon bright enough to have amassed a fortune but stone-deaf and blind to criticism raised against Tartuffe. He is maddeningly slow to react to his wife's increasing struggle with the lustful Tartuffe.

About an hour into the play with the words "hang up my hair shirt," Jim Chance's Tartuffe arrives. He is a fascinating scoundrel, gleefully lecherous, shamelessly deceitful and avaricious, reaching comic heights as he tries to seduce Elmira.

As Cleante, Pabon personifies level-headedness along with warmth and decency, delivering a Polonius-like speech on the wisdom of maintaining a middle course and being tolerant that is a highlight of Bay's production.

Duke is lovely and wise as Elmira, playing the role with subtlety, charm, restraint and wit.

Luby is ideally cast as Dorine, epitomizing common sense and outwitting her master in the Figaro tradition of the wise servant. Luby tosses off reams of dialogue with an easy grace and is hilarious in attempting to reason with Orgon and mediating between young lovers Mariane and Valere.

Among the lesser roles, Baron creates a fine portrait of Orgon's hot-headed son, Damis; Davidson is believable as Mariane, who is distraught at her father's promising her to Tartuffe; and Ben Russo is impetuous and courageously reliable as Valere.

Professional theater in Annapolis has attained a markedly higher level with Bay's Tartuffe production.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through June 3 at 275 West St., Annapolis. Tickets are $22 for general admission and $17 for students and senior citizens and are available at www.baytheatre.org or by calling 410-268-1333.

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