Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tartuffe—Post Five Theatre—NE Portland



“What a Piece of Work…”

This classic satirical farce by Moliére is directed by Tobias Andersen and is playing at Post5’s space at 850 NE 81st Ave. through March 16th.  This version is translated and adapted for the stage by Contance Congon.  For more information, go to www.postfivetheatre.org



If you think you have viewed this play before…well, I got news for you…”ya ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”  This version takes place in Texas, ripe with costuming from our modern times, with accents to boot, but uttered in iambic pentameter.  Wow!  A cattle-drive, which is just itching to cause a stampede, or destined to sink mid-stream in its own self-indulgence.  Luckily, the former is true, due entirely to Congon’s deft hand at writing in meter, Andersen’s marvelous sense of comedy, and a very talented cast.


The theme seems to take a poke at religion but is really a slap in the face to con-men everywhere, including religious fanatics, who take unscrupulous advantage of those truly seeking answers to universal questions, in which faith is a deciding factor.  If you blindly believe, you could be a sucker, if you don’t, you could be damned.  You see the dilemma.


In this story, Orgon (Keith Cable) is a very rich land-owner in Texas.  He rules it with his attractive wife, Elmire (Christy Drogosch) and cranky Mom (Tori Padellford).  The inheritors of said property are his rebellious son, Damis (Phillip J. Berns) and his obedient daughter, Marianne (Chelsie Kinney), who is engaged to Valere (Dennis Kelly).  They also have a rather outspoken, sassy maid called, Dorine (Sarah Peters), who keeps poking her nose into family business.  And there is also the practical brother-in-law, Cleante (Jim Davis), who also is a friend of Orgon’s.


Into their lives arrives the devious Tartuffe (Garland Lyons).  Taken in as a homeless creature, who seems to just need the basics in life, he quickly proclaims himself a prophet and feels it’s his duty to save this unfortunate family.  Orgon falls for his ploy hook, line and sinker and willingly gives Tartuffe anything he desires.  He even offers his daughter in marriage to this goodly man.  But his roving eye seems to fall onto Orgon’s wife, who spurns his advances, until she realizes it may be the way to revive her husband from his religious stupor.


To reveal more would spoil the ending.  But, let’s just say the Courts, via Loyal (Dan Robertson), and the Law, care of the Sheriff (Erik James), are heavily involved in the climax.  And, very fittingly, there is a Greek Chorus, in the guise of three authentic, Western singers, Davis, Peters and Larry Wilder, who provide musical commentaries on the proceedings.  Add it all up and you have not only an entertaining story, boldly presented, but something of a “Happening” (to use a 60’s phrase), in which you feel you have participated in an artistic event that uniquely transformed your perception of Art.

The Master’s touch, Andersen, is fully responsible for this marvelous evening.  He has always shown himself as one of the best local actors in the business and now he has garnered directing kudos, with this show, to his reputation.  His sense of comedy and timing works on all fronts in this difficult, poetic way of presenting a show.  And Congon’s script, writing in meter, is exceptional.  The set by Rachel Finn is very effective, giving the actors lots of room to play.  And the costumes, by Rusty Terwelp, add the necessary authenticity to the production.


The cast has uniformly seemed to have mastered the art of speaking in rhyme, and yet being able to present it as if they were carrying on a normal conversation.  My friend who was with me, having seen a traditional presentation of this show, said this was the first time he had actually understood the story.  And all three of the singers/musicians were top-notch, bringing easy applause from the audience every time they performed.  Bravo to them!

Lyons, as Tartuffe, was exceptional.  He plays the con so sincerely that you actually want to believe him.  Such is the secret touch of a real con artist, and a brilliant acting performance.  Cable, as Orgon, is equally good, presenting the authoritarian, bombastic patriarch like a steam-roller, akin to a Trump-type character.  Berns is always a pleasure to watch as the slightly screwy son.  And, in the pivotal role of the brash maid, Dorine, Peters is super traversing the tricky road of minding her station in the household but yet able to use common sense to question motives.


The only flaws come from the source material in the plot, as it is never explained as to who Tartuffe really is or why he does what he does.  And the ending is pretty flimsy, having no real discovery as to why the plot is thwarted, except that the powers that be simply didn’t believe him.  But those are only incidental in the enjoyment of this outstanding production!


I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.