Reviewed by Lory Martinez
This past weekend (April 24-26) audiences piled into Watters Theater at Binghamton University for Tartuffe, the classic French farce by Molière. The production, translated by Richard Wilbur and directed by Tom Kremer, is full of surprises, laughs and well-acted satire.
As a student of French literature at BU, I am well-acquainted with Moliere’s work. His comedies have always been well-praised in France and abroad for their ability to be translated and performed before modern audiences with the same end result: uproarious laughter. I was excited to see with the BU Theater Department players would do with this classic work, and they did not disappoint.
Tartuffe or The Imposter tells the story of a poor man named Tartuffe (Tyler Downey), who presents himself as pious and holy before a nobleman named Orgon (Eric Berger). Orgon is so taken by Tartuffe’s “holiness” that he invites him to live in his home and become his advisor. Under Tartuffe’s influence, Orgon turns against his family and almost loses everything that is dear to him. His wife, Elmire (Stephanie Gomerez); his son, Damis (Gil Young Choi), and his daughter, Mariane (Emily Mahoney), all try to convince him of Tartuffe’s falsehood, but he remains blissfully unaware throughout the better part of the show.
The show is faithful to its 17th century roots, with beautiful costumes designed by Andrea Lenci-Cercihiara and set design by Nickolas D’annunzio. One is transported into this world of French nobility, but as Moliere’s work is wont to do, one is also reminded that one is in a theater, watching players, “play” with narrative and structure. There are plenty of moments in which the players break the fourth wall to address spectators.
The best moments come from Mariane’s lady’s maid, Dorine, played by Imani Pearl Williams, whose speeches highlight the best of Moliere’s wit. Williams plays the intrusive maid whose cunning, along with that of Gomerez’s Elmire, help Orgon regain consciousness from Tartuffe’s illusion.
In its essence, Tartuffe is a comedy of manners, or lack there of. There is plenty of running around and the banter between characters is light and funny, even in the darkest of moments. The language may be hard to follow at first, as the translator has kept the original verse style of Moliere’s piece, but as the play moves forward, one gets used to the rhythm of speech as the members of Orgon’s family work to unmask Tartuffe. In all, it is a delightful comedy well worth watching on a spring evening.
Final performances will be at 8 p.m. today and Saturday (May 1 and 2) and at 2 p.m. Sunday (May 3). Tickets are available at the Anderson Center box office on campus.