The Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of Tartuffe is a laugh-filled classic that feels relevant to today’s times. They use Richard Wilbur’s translation of French playwright Moliere’s 1664 comedy, with ten-syllable lines of rhyming couplets. Directed by Beth Terranova, it is an impressive and fun way to open Colonial’s 75th season.
John Halmi gives an over-the-top gleefulness to Tartuffe, the seemingly excessively religious man who has ingratiated himself with a wealthy Frenchman. He thrusts a handkerchief at Dorine (Ashley Simon), begging her to “cover her bosom,” leading to one of the play’s best zingers. Professing his love to Elmire (Carrie Gross Brady), he drops onto his knees, using religious language to justify his desires. Later, he stretches out on the chaise in joyous anticipation. Caught in a compromising situation, he takes on all the blame, gaining sympathy as a terrible sinner. When finally thwarted, he yells in anger, storming off the stage.
Ashley Simon commands the stage as Dorine the maid. She freely speaks her mind about everything, remarking when Orgon (Michael J. Galizia) orders her to stop talking that she is simply “speaking to herself.” She encourages Mariane (Hannah Geib) to oppose her father’s plans for her, variously joking, cajoling, and pretending that marrying Tartuffe is the girl’s best option. Exasperated at Mariane and Valere’s (John Sines) argument, she brings them back together. She is pure joy to watch onstage.
Carrie Gross Brady brings a quiet practicality to Elmire, Orgon’s wife. She politely but firmly rebuffs Tartuffe’s initial declaration of love, then later encourages him while comically trying to get her husband to intervene.
Michael J. Galizia plays Orgon, Tartuffe’s “mark,” with an air of frustrated authority. He yells at Simon, begging her to be quiet, then turns on Damis (Austin Bennett) as he accuses Tartuffe of seduction. He hounds Mariane with his marriage plans for her, ordering her to obey him. His richly deep, low tones give his words great power, but unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to understand him.
Hannah Geib gives a youthful innocence to Mariane, Orgon’s daughter. She pleads with him not to follow through on his marriage plans, dropping to her knees. John Sines plays her beloved Valere with full adoration. He has a great comic moment when, during a tiff with Geib, he threatens to walk out, but does not do so. Austin Bennett plays Damis, Orgon’s son, with much anger, raging against Tartuffe and eager to beat him up.
Jason Vaughan plays Cleante, Orgon’s friend, with great common sense. He speaks against Orgon’s hurtling between extremes and challenges Tartuffe’s religious pretensions. His good advice is sadly often not taken until too late. Meg Venton gives a severity to Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, criticizing the entire family and comically refusing to believe Tartuffe’s badness even in the face of evidence. Scott Sanders gives a quiet dignity to the bailiff Loyale, matter-of-factly presenting the situation to Orgon and his family. Tyler Heroux plays the Police Officer with authority, setting everything right on behalf of the King. Jane Carrigan plays Flipote, Madame Pernelle’s servant, with a comic subservience, following her mistress around the stage without speaking a word.
Set Designers Constance Robinson and Beth Terranova, along with Properties Designer Kimberly Barker, recreate a well-to-do 17th-century French family’s living room, with a chaise lounge in the center, chairs on either end of the stage, and a long table covered with drinks and a tablecloth (for concealing anyone hiding under the table) in front of the chaise. Costume Designer Linda Swann evokes the period with dark-colored vests and white shirts for the men, and long dresses and caps for the women. Dorine’s red cloth dress marks her out as a servant, while Tartuffe has a ruffled collar, later wearing a fur-lined cloak. Loyale looks imposing in a black tunic, while the Police Officer looks official in a green poncho and black hat. Hair and Makeup Designer Rebecca Kotraba helps enhance the feel of the time.
Lighting Designer Jo-Anne Taylor keeps the stage bright for the action. In one invented “inter-scene” move, the lights dim just enough to show a character racing across the stage. Sound Designer Miranda Evans plays period-appropriate music after intermission.
Beth Terranova does a wonderful job as director. The actors handle the rhyming couplets well, avoiding monotony by varying the rhythms and emphasis. They also keep the lengthy speeches engaging with movement and energy. While some viewers might at first be concerned that the only actors of color on stage play servant roles, given the history of slavery and white supremacy, watching Simon inhabit Dorine with such talent and zest quickly puts any worries to rest. And while audiences laugh at the comic antics, they might connect the action on stage to the current situation, where some in power use their seeming Christian piety to justify discrimination and impose their view of morality onto the world. Tartuffe will delight those familiar with the play as well as those seeing it for the first time.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Tartuffe plays through September 30, 2023, at The Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($26 for adults; $21 for seniors, students, and military), call the box office at 410-268-7373 or purchase online.
The playbill for Tartuffe is downloadable here.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional, though strongly encouraged, as long as the CDC rating for Anne Arundel County is not “High.”