nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
March 28, 2009
Gus Kaikkonen has staged a largely uproarious Tartuffe for the Pearl Theatre Company's 25th anniversary season. While a key theme of Moliere's seminal work—its attack on religious hypocrisy—is lost, the farce-like production, with all its pratfalls and over-the-top sexual innuendo, breezes past with the speed of a runaway freight train. It helps that Kaikkonen has assembled a first-rate cast and design team, most of whom are members of the Pearl's resident acting company, to take part in the proceedings.
Orgon, the wealthy bourgeois master of the house has taken in Tartuffe, a religious hypocrite, and has begun following his every word. He has no problem putting his family's happiness second to Tartuffe's and even signs over the deed to his home and all possessions to him.
In Kaikkonen's production, there's no wonder why Orgon would follow Tartuffe's orders down to the letter; as played by TJ Edwards, Orgon is a charmingly befuddled old man, the kind that you'd expect to fall victim to some kind of scam such as this (or at least, if it were the 2000s and not the 17th century, would donate money to the Gold Coast to help bail out a prince). Bradford Cover's Tartuffe is a snarling, larger-than-life creature who has done this sort of thing before and has spent years perfecting it.
Rachel Botchan as Orgon's second wife, Elmire, and Orgon's children, Mariane (Carrie McCrossen, bewitching and naïve) and Damis (Sean McNall, a great physical comedian) are, along with the remaining cast members, all delightful and visibly having the times of their lives. Their delivery of Richard Wilbur's legendary verse adaptation is also quite masterful.
The physical production is lusciously designed, from sets (Harry Feiner) that allow for a great deal of comic visuals to gorgeous costumes (Sam Fleming) and lighting (Stephen Petrilli). Kaikkonen has a jarring final image involving Tartuffe's servant, Laurent, that makes the audience lightly gasp. It's just unnecessary and takes away from the "happy" ending Moliere originally wrote.
Looking at the production as a whole, it's unfortunate that Kaikkonen has chosen to sacrifice meaning for comedy and has not found an approach to the text that would give both equal standing. What we have now is a slice of apple pie that leaves us starving for a well-balanced meal.