Spotlight: Tartuffe

Michal Daniel

Behind every William J. Bennett there is a possessed fat man jacking off a slot machine at $1,000 a pull. Moliere knew this as well as anyone, and cooked up Tartuffe in response to the religious grandstanders and moral scolds of his day. David Ball's adaptation is staged at Jeune Lune with total assurance and captivating energy, and even pre-knowledge of the story doesn't take away from its astringent bite. The huge two-story set suggests dramatic grandeur even before the action begins. By the time Steven Epp appears as the titular holy man-cum-scoundrel, about an hour into the show, we have a solid grasp on the central problem. Orgon (Dominique Serrand), the patriarch of a well-off family, is willing to sell out his own kin at the behest of his religious leader. Tartuffe only has eyes for Orgon's lovely wife (Sarah Agnew), though in a pinch he's willing to marry Orgon's girlish daughter Mariane (Maggie Chestovich). Serrand's performance is restrained, almost pained save for when he exhibits a beatific smile when his relatives try to convince him he's being taken for a fool. Serrand is also credited with co-conceiving the show (with Epp), directing it, and masterminding the scenography. (He possibly also runs the floor buffer in the lobby before locking the joint up at the end of the night.) The result is a visually marvelous production grounded in irresistible storytelling and wry humor. The highlight might come when we watch Orgon try to convince his mother that he's finally hip to Tartuffe's vices, after seeing him try to seduce his wife. The frustration mounts on his face as mom refuses to believe the evidence of the senses against her unquenchable faith. And Epp lends his holy man a nasty edge; this isn't a charming blowhard but a shrewd manipulator. Patriotism might be the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings, but religion isn't far off.

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