Tartuffe, presented by SRT at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
(Photos courtesy of SRT)
A Dazzling New Look at Moliere Classic
The Summer Repertory Theatre festival, now in its 44th year at Santa Rosa Junior College, is a popular summer escape for local theatre lovers. The repertory company draws dozens of the most promising theatre students from all over the United States. SRT’s 2015 program includes five plays and musicals performed at two professional-quality theaters on the JC campus – the 600-seat Burbank Auditorium, and the 198-seat Newman Auditorium. It’s in the smaller Newman venue where perhaps one of the most entertaining and original incarnations of a centuries-old theatre classic, Moliere’s “Tartuffe”, is being presented.
Bringing the setting of an old standard into modern times is nothing new in theatre. Recent presentations by Cinnabar Theater include “Falstaff” set in the 1950s and “The Marriage of Figaro” in the Jazz Age (both shows previously had similar stagings in New York City). But earlier this year, a review for a production of “Tartuffe” at Berkeley Rep may have provided a spark of inspiration. The reviewer suggested that this 17th-century potboiler could be a reality TV show today.
Someone was paying attention. Through director Anne McAlexander’s innovation and skilled eye for both comic and dramatic timing, we do indeed get to see what the characters in “Tartuffe” would look like as reality stars. From TV monitors mounted around the stage, characters deliver their deepest, darkest confessions when asides to the audience are called for. Camera crews are in hot pursuit as characters scamper away. They may be holding smartphones, but the actors speak lines that are faithful to Richard Wilbur’s translation into rhyming couplets, which is great fun to hear.
There are some outstanding performances: Nancy Ross is fabulous as the ditzy Mariane; Albert Rubio has some great moments as pious family man Orgon; Craig Braunerplays the title role with farcical wit. The smooth-talking swindler Tartuffe is armed only with phony religion, used as a front to get sex and riches. Ross is especially good, playing a sympathetic, comical sexpot worthy of Marilyn Monroe.
The cast as a whole is an excellent working ensemble. Notable are Devin White (Damis), Lauren Hart (Elmire) and Andrew Cohagen (Valere). What the show needs is a stronger Dorine, the wisecracking, ever-present housemaid. The role is pivotal – she’s the family negotiator, conscience, scold, confidante and watchdog. Danielle Cohn is pleasant enough, but plays it a little too awkward, too soft and restrained when sharpness and force are called for.
Crazy little bits of business that are obviously not in Moliere’s script give jolts of surprise, propelling the action from beginning to end. The focal point seems to be the household cocktail bar, strategically positioned downstage center, where nearly everyone in the show stops for refreshment (some more than others). McAlexander uses the whole stage with impeccable, choreographic blocking that really enhances the effect of a piece like this, where timing is everything. McAlexander, who also happens to be a talented choreographer, saves some of her best handiwork for last, with a Bollywood-style dance number at the end of the show that rocked the house on a recent evening.
The controversy and salaciousness embedded in “Tartuffe” travel very well between centuries and lose none of their titillating appeal. Self-righteousness, religious hypocrisy and the seven deadly sins are all right there, fully intact and ready to be enjoyed. The deeper message, according to McAlexander: “…certain reality TV franchises hold a mirror up to the viewers, forcing us to reflect on our own shortcomings and actions. Heightened lifestyles and extreme circumstances allow us to maintain a safe distance from which to both be entertained and judge.” But who can judge Tartuffe? He readily admits, “I’m no angel nor was meant to be.” Just like all of us.
When: Now through August 2, 2015
Performances: Weekdays (except Mondays) and weekends
2:00 p.m. matinees, 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. evenings
(See www.SummerRep.com for details)
Tickets: $15 to $25
Where: Newman Auditorium at SRJC 1501 Mendocino Avenue (off Elliott Avenue in Emeritus Hall)
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Other shows being presented by SRT Festival at SRJC:
“Emma” by Jane Austen (Newman Auditorium)
“Peter and the Starcatcher” (Burbank Auditorium)
“South Pacific” (Burbank Auditorium)
“Little Shop of Horrors” (Burbank Auditorium)
Festival runs through August 8, 2015 www.SummerRep.com