Molière’s Tartuffe, the first play offered in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s Summer of Giants, is the very definition of a rollicking comedy. Molière is the kind of playwright who keeps the action and every character clearly defined without pandering—producing plays that are the basis for almost any kind of farce that came along after his heyday in the late 1600s. The dialogue is in rhymed couplets—in Richard Wilbur’s deft translation—and that keeps the talk bouncing, and adds charm and wit in spades.
As directed by Dustin Wills, the play is a steady stream of comic moments, a sort of “choose your own” of favorite bits. For some, it may be Prema Cruz’s opening dressing-down of the entire household due to their lack of respect for Tartuffe, a fraudulent holy man who has won her allegiance; or it may be Chris Bannow as deluded and domineering Orgon, hiding under a table to overhear the woo pitched at his wife Elmire (Michelle McGregor) by the hypocritical horndog Tartuffe (Mamoudou Athie)—McGregor’s darting, silent-screen-actress eyes as she listens was a high point for me.
For others it will be the droll spat between the lovers earnest Valere (Mitchell Winter) and winsome Mariane (Celeste Arias) after Valere climbs none-too-adroitly through her window to confront her—their scene together is a great instance of the sport Molière likes to have with lovers.
For others, it may be Ashton Heyl as the ever-attendant ladies’ maid Dorine, offering moral support and cutting remarks—and even a deafening vacuum-cleaner to drown out Orgon’s demands that his daughter marry the insufferable Tartuffe; or may be Ato Blankson-Wood as Damis, son of Orgon and Elmire, who hides in a piano at one point and elsewhere doesn’t brandish a blade so much as try to boat it; or perhaps Mickey Theis as Cleante, Elmire’s brother, he of the widened waist coat, a penchant for preachy apothegms, and an addiction to vanilla wafers.
Then there’s the title character: as Tartuffe, Athie is at times a deadpan foil, at others—when his doting host’s back is turned—a churlish manipulator choking on his dastardly desires. The company is rounded out by Ceci Fernandez in several small roles, most notably the be-wigged fop who provides a hilariously inspired deus ex machina moment in praise of the ever-vigilant prince.
The physical comedy is broad and the characterizations broader, but it’s not just in fun. If you think the theme of how fools can be made the dupes of pious frauds who say one thing and do another ever goes out of currency, think again.
Regulars to the Yale Cabaret space are in for a surprise: the Cab’s usually amorphous configuration of tables and playing-space has been redesigned as a deep stage with wings, while the seating includes, in addition to the familiar high and low tables, a riser of seats in the back and a row of “splash seats” on each side of the action. It’s a fitting set-up for a season of “giant” authors, giving plenty of theatrical space for each show. For Tartuffe, Kate Noll’s scenic design has raided the set of the Rep’s Marie Antoinette among others to give us some of the trappings of the era, filled out with backdrops of faces lifted from engravings of the time; Seth Bodie’s colorful costumes play with period stylings while also flaunting modern touches.
Thoroughly entertaining and engagingly delivered, Tartuffe is a big production that kicks-off the summer season with panache and verve. The show closes June 15th.
Yale Summer Cabaret Molière’s Tartuffe Translated by Richard Wilbur Directed by Dustin Wills
Stage Manager: Geoff Boronda; Scenic Designer: Kate Noll; Costume Designer: Seth Bodie; Lighting Designer: Oliver Wason; Composer: Bob Greenfield; Sound Designer: Steve Brush; Production Manager/Technical Director: James Lanius
Yale Summer Cabaret 217 Park Street New Haven, CT