Monday, July 24, 2017

Tartuffe—Masque Alfresco—Greater Portland Parks

Feathers & Fluff

This classic Commedia dell’arte satire from the 1600’s by Moliere, updated, adapted and directed by Fayra Teeters.  It is playing at various outdoor settings in Beaverton, Hillsboro and Lake Oswego through August 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.masquealfresco.com

This era in American political history will undoubtedly go down as the lowest point (to date) in our existence.  It is full of bullies, con-men, hoodwinkers, egotists and out-and-out, liars.  The Good News is that there is nowhere to go but Up.  And so, as we swim in the dregs, with the sharks, in the bottom of the barrel, we choose to absorb the vino and laugh at the whole proceedings.  After all, In Vino est Gigglas!

This play, done in sort-of period costuming (Nan Frederick), has been adapted in language (Fayra Teeters) to fit the above-mentioned era, not an easy task but it seems to fit into our palms like a well-greased glove.  To bastardize the Bard, “We are such stuff as [Nightmares] are made on, and our little life is rounded with a [deep coma].”

In this story, Orgon (Jonas D. Israel) is a very rich land-owner in Paris.  He rules it with his attractive, trophy-wife, Elmire (Athena McElrath) and his cranky Mom (Karen Kalensky).  The inheritors of said property, besides wife and Mom, are his rebellious son, Damis (KJ McElrath) and Orgon’s defiant daughter, Mariane (Sami Pfeifer), who is engaged to Valere (Erik Montague), a troubadour, of sorts.  They also have a rather outspoken, sassy maid, Dorine (Jessica Reed), who keeps poking her nose into family business.  And there is also the practical brother-in-law, Cleante (Rian Turner), who is also faithful to Orgon.

Into their lives arrives the unscrupulous, Tartuffe (Kenneth Dembo).  Taken in as a homeless creature, who had seemed to just need the basics in life, quickly proclaims himself a prophet and feels it’s his duty to save this unfortunate family (with the bulk of the change going to him).  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 Tartuffe’s 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 (KJ McElrath, again)), and the Law, care of an officer (Montague, again), are heavily involved in the climax.  Any resemblance to current affairs and personas is purely…intentional.  This is outrageous, physical comedy, akin to our own Vaudeville at times, and with audience participation throw in for good measure.  A side note, check out the McElrath’s other enterprise, along similar lines at http://mcelrathcabaret.com as they are a talented duo in their other, artistic life, as well.  

Teeters certainly knows her politics and the barbs come fast and furious and keep the audience a-titter.  Also kudos must be given to her for the use of a small, outdoor space and still keeping the story intact.  The costumes (Frederick), especially the women, are quite lovely and add to the success of the show.  The entire cast is obviously having fun.  I especially liked Reed as the saucy maid (who has an operatic voice, as well) and, as in the Bard’s plays as well, the servants (or “domestic engineers”) are usually the wise clowns of the piece.  And Dembo, as the title character, leaves no scene “un-chewed,” which is entirely appropriate with this character.  He’s a scream, as well as the rest of the cast, as this type of material is not easy to do but they pull it off with glee.

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