Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The basic plot is that Orgon, a wealthy man, has fallen under the spell of the ostensibly religious guru Tartuffe, and has brought him into his home to live with his family. Tartuffe's ministrations, however, are not directed toward heaven, but toward getting Orgon's property and his wife Elmire. Everyone else in the household sees Tartuffe for the charlatan that he is, except for Orgon and his mother. They will brook no word being spoken against Tartuffe, and eventually Orgon disinherits his son, promises his daughter in marriage to Tartuffe, and gives him the entirety of his estate. It takes a deus ex machina to get out of this mess.
One thing about the play that takes a bit of getting used to is the language. All of the French plays of the time, both tragedies and comedies, were written in rhyming couplets, six feet to the line. It seems that it would take an awful lot of time to come up with a five-act play written in strict rhyme and meter, but somehow Molière, Racine and Corneille churned them out in fairly rapid succession. Maybe it's easier in French than in English.
The translator is not mentioned in the program, but I'm pretty sure that it's the Richard Wilbur translation, which maintains the original meter and rhyme scheme. It's witty and a tour de force of translating, but it can't help but sound artificial, since people speak in prose, never in rhyming couplets. I was listening for all the rhymes, and when I didn't catch one, I wondered how I missed it, and was briefly distracted. After a while, though, I got used to it, and accepted it as the stylized form of theater that it was in the era of Louis XIV.
Mario Cabrera, the director of this Adobe Theater production, has chosen not to set the play in the age of the Sun King, but in the American South, shortly after the Civil War. The conceit is that Tartuffe is a carpetbagger, taking advantage of a family that has just survived the conflict with their property intact. (I wouldn't have picked up on the carpetbagger angle without reading it in the program, however.) The advantage of this setting is that the characters can still put on accents, but it's easier to do a convincing Southern accent than a French one, and the women still get to wear big, flouncy dresses in the French style. Tartuffe is one of the most malleable of plays. Almost any historical context is appropriate for it, since human nature and predation and stupidity have not changed for eons.
Mr. Cabrera keeps the action moving along despite the wordy monologues that Molière gives some of the characters. He has the good fortune of having been able to round up a fine cast. There's not a lot of subtlety to the acting, and everyone speaks pretty loudly, but it works well because this is a comedy.
Orgon is a perfect role for Timothy Kupjack, since he can act as ornery as he wants, and he's always good at orneriness. Alaina Warren Zachary has a relatively small role as his mother, but as usual, she's a force of nature on stage. Fawn Hanson is a lovely Elmire, adept at leading Tartuffe on during his attempt to seduce her. Tartuffe is played by Santa Fe actor Rod Harrison as a Rasputin type, with goofy hair and eye makeup. It's a good interpretation of a character who thinks he can finagle his way into getting anything he wants.
Other actors do good work too. Angela Littleton is another force of nature as the maid Dorine; as is usually the case in comedies, the servant is wiser than the master. Ruben Muller is steady as the sensible relative whose good advice is consistently ignored by Orgon. Symone Platania, the ingenue of the piece, and Colin Stapleton as her suitor don't have a lot to do but they do it quite well. I was impressed by college-aged Caleb Ramsell as Orgon's son; he has good stage presence.
Tartuffe is not a laugh riot, but it's one of the plays that set the template for comedy as we know it today. Once you get adapted to the stylized poetry of the dialogue, I think you will find this production most enjoyable. Running time for this play is about 2 hours.
Tartuffe, Through June 23, 2019, at the Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW, Albuquerque NM (a few blocks north of Alameda). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $17 to $20. A Pay What You Wish performance to benefit the cast is Thursday, June 20, at 7:30. For information and tickets, visit adobetheater.org.