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Opened at Pendragon Theatre, Saranac Lake, NY, Thursday, June 28, 2001
If you say to a friend that you're going to see TARTUFFE by Moliere, the response is often a grimace and a dismissive, "Oh-a classic." Well folks, it may be a classic, but it's a classic comedy and the production at Pendragon Theatre is plenty funny.
In TARTUFFE Moliere anatomizes one of the obsessions that threatens the bourgeois family - religious passion. Not only did he create Tartuffe, the epitome of a hypocritical religious fraud, but Moliere has also created a scene in which Tartuffe so manipulates the truth that his very truthful detractors seem to be lying. This confession scene as well as the seduction scene are two of the great comic scenes of all time.
Director Sidney Friedman has done a great job of getting his cast comfortable with the style and the language, although the excellent Richard Wilbur translation helps in that respect. We're used to hearing period language with a British accent, but it works just as well in what is known as non-accented mid-Atlantic.
The set designed by Kent Steed is serviceable and the elaborate gold stenciling gives it a nice period feel, but I kept waiting for someone to use the other door. Mr. Steed also designed the wonderful period costumes. The ladies' gowns are impressive, as is the facility with which the men deal with period footwear.
Chris McGovern as Orgon displays the typical Moliere character's obsessive desire to defend his obsession - in this case Tartuffe. Cleante played by Peter Picard, on the other hand, typifies the voice of sense and intelligent argument. Raina Field as Elmire, Orgon's long-suffering wife, has the stature and dignity the role requires. She's at her best in her scenes with Tartuffe and shows a nice flair for comedy.
The three youngest actors, Devon Ford as Damis, Kristopher Kensinger as Valere and Megan Papier as Mariane, (this year with one "n" and no rollerblades), all do well in their roles as teenagers in the grip of hormone hurricanes. However they would do better if they learned to listen and respond more to the other actors. The same applies to Barbara Touby as Madame Pernelle, who tends to act only when she's talking. She seemed to have no response at all to Tartuffe's treachery in the final scene.
Molly Pietz is delightful as Dorine, one of Moliere's wonderful servant characters who seems to be more in control of things than her master. It's a solid performance that lights up the stage. She's a terrific comedienne who never goes too far.
Last but certainly not least is Ralph Petrarca as Tartuffe. In Act I he plays the role with amoral glee and a mischievous childlike quality that's quite disarming. He's never consciously evil - lecherous yes, but not evil. Is there such a thing as ingenuous hypocrisy? Both his seduction scenes with Elmire are truly hilarious. He and Miss Pietz are newcomers to Pendragon and I look forward to seeing more of them both.
Director Friedman and Pendragon Theatre are to be congratulated for putting together such a complex play in such a short time and in such a small space. It's an evening of genuine enjoyment of a play that's too seldom seen.
On a scale of one to five, The Pendragon Theatre's production of TARTUFFE gets four pinecones. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.