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Review/Theater; The Dupe As Principal In Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’

In College of Marin on October 12, 2009 at 4:54 am

Tartuffe and Orgon

Tartuffe and Orgon

Dave Fickbohm lives in Marin County and regularly reviews live theater productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact Dave Fickbohm at davefickbohm@gmail.com

College of Marin’s production of “Tartuffe” reaffirms, it is Orgon, not Tartuffe, who is the principal character in the Moliere comedy. The focus is on the dupe’s deception rather than on the hypocrite who deceives him.  On College of Marin’s Main Stage, Christopher Hammond is the woefully self-deluding and mirthful object of Tartuffe’s confidence game.

Orgon has welcomed the scoundrel into his home and then encouraged him in his subversion of his family and its values. For Orgon, Tartuffe can do no wrong, and all proof of his misconduct is considered blasphemy, until the husband is faced foursquare with the truth and his own imminent cuckoldry. As Hammond plays him, Orgon is not simply an old fool but the sincerest of acolytes totally overcome by guru worship.

This is a “Tartuffe” that remains very much in period, the age of Louis XIV, Moliere’s French original was scripted in rhyming couplets; Richard Wilbur’s English translation adheres to that model as closely as possible.

With his command threatened, Tartuffe responds heatedly; then, with impeccable timing, retreats to a slow burn.  When Orgon is in high dudgeon his relatives run for cover. This is a wonderfully addled portrait in which Hammond does not lose sight of the poignancy of Orgon’s dilemma. He means well, but he is so Tartuffified that his brain seems washed and dried.

Hammond and Dennis Crumley as Tartuffe are an artful pair of opposites.  Tartuffe almost seems to underplay his role.  Eileen Fisher delivers a gently determined portrait of Orgon’s wife, a woman who has cause for a sexual harassment suit against Tartuffe, and Erica O’Conner is a charming Dorine. As this know-it-all maid, O’Conner blithely maintains her equilibrium as the others do everything to defeat themselves.

It is primarily Hammond who makes this “Tartuffe” such a treat. He is filled with comic inventiveness, as in the scene in which he tries to convince his bigoted mother that Tartuffe has behaved scandalously. “I saw it,” he proclaims. “Saw it with my own eyes,” and then, as his mother continues to argue, he points at his eyes with the index finger of both hands to underscore the point. Rising in indignation, he looks as if he might explode from apoplexy.

On a set by Ronald Krempetz that embodies the austerity and opulence of 17th-century upper-class existence, and under the able direction of W. Allen Taylor, the cast of current and former COM students gives an admirable and enjoyable spin to this classic tale of deception in full period costumes by Patricia Polen.

Stephanie Ahlberg portrays Orgon’s mother with a brashness that fulfills a small but significant role. David Abrams and Sean Gunnell are youthful, hot-headed young men, and Steve Adamski plays Orgon’s brother-in-law Cleante with bumbling good intentions. Jenny Donohue sparkles as Marianne, a young woman in love being denied her true love.  Emmanuel Linden-Broner is wonderfully polite but nasty as M. Loyal, the prince’s emissary who delivers an eviction notice to the Pernelle household.  Alex Greene and David Paulson are solid policemen doing their duty.  Eryn Brydon, does an excellent job as the cavalry to the rescue at the last minute.

This College of Marin production does an excellent job of putting the play in its proper historical context.

REVIEW

What: “Tartuffe” at College   of Marin

Where: College of Marin Fine Arts Theatre, Sir Francis Drake and Laurel Avenue, Kentfield

When: Through Oct. 18: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $10 to $15

Information: 485-9555

Rating: Four out of five stars

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