By Molière
Directed by Jonathan Hadley and Jessica Zodrow
Sonnet Repertory Theatre
Producers Club II
616 Ninth Ave. (212/560-2432)
Equity showcase (closes May 2)
Review by Charles Battersby

Tartuffe is perhaps Molière's most famous play, a clever satire about false piety and hypocrisy, as well as about the fools who place their trust in the falsely pious. Orgon, a wealthy French nobleman, has taken in a poor man named Tartuffe, who embodies all saintly virtues. Or rather Tartuffe pretends to be virtuous, succeeding in fooling Orgon, but not Orgon's family and household. As one might expect from Molière, a crazy caper is put together to expose Tartuffe's hypocrisy to Orgon, and (as one might expect) this caper results in raised petticoats.

Even though the titular hypocrite is offstage for most of the show, Tartuffe is still the role that will make or break this play. Demosthenes Chrysan as Tartuffe was outright creepy in his earlier scenes, when he was still pretending to be devout, and became hysterical later in the play when he cast aside his false pretenses and revealed himself as a lecherous scoundrel. Chrysan was particularly funny when he tried to ravish a damsel on the dinner table (of course, her husband was hiding beneath it). Co-directors Jonathan Hadley and Jessica Zodrow excelled at physical comedy, never more so than the aforementioned ravishing scene between Tartuffe and Elmire, played by the leggy damsel Robyne Parrish. Bawdy, yet still cerebral, the direction represented this form of comedy at its best.

The cast as an ensemble excelled, although there were a few flubbed lines in this performance (which can be written off as opening night stumbles). Kasey Mahaffy stood out playing two roles; one a lovesick fop and the other a weasely court bailiff. Robyne Parrish was an excellent stuffy noblewoman, and Richard Marshall was comically befuddled right up to the last minute.

Jeffrey Main's set was limited by the black-box venue, yet little touches were added to make the Producers' Club look more ... French. Tapestries were hung about, and even candleholders had been affixed to the walls. A table, large enough for ravishing (and for people to hide under during such) was on hand too. Sound consisted of a live cellist (John Schnatterly) playing classical music. Schnatterly even jumped onstage later in the show, playing a bit part in the final scene.

The gorgeous period costumes were designed by Robin A Mates. Aside from the gowns and waistcoats one would expect, the costumes also included some character-specific sight gags for Tartuffe, such as the tattered monk robe he wore in his earlier scenes, which was later replaced by an outrageous nobleman's attire including a diamond-studded cross.

This production used the excellent translation by Richard Wilbur, whose work is, more or less, the standard for modern Moliere productions (Wilbur even preserved the rhyme scheme in his translation!). Although Moliere's script has something of a deus ex machina ending, there's little to complain about given how funny and insightful it is. The material has kept its razor-sharp edge after 300 years and, in an era when the president claims that God gives him advice on war strategy, this play's themes of religion and hypocrisy couldn't be more apropos.

(Also featuring Joan Grant, Josh Perilo, Allison Nichols, Ben Cherry, Katrina Kent, and Beth Yocam.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby