Tartuffe, Stage Left Theatre. The power of the clergy, the state, and the family patriarch aren't what they used to be. And therein lies the difficulty in updating Moliere's 17th-century satire to present-day America. The wealthy citizen who bankrupts himself to help a Bible-thumping shyster, the wife with no power to prevent this folly, the monarch who puts things to rights--all must be reconciled with the world we know.
Most modernized stagings solve these problems by setting the action in a milieu where religion is still an important part of everyday life. But Stage Left's Chicago-premiere production of Ranjit Bolt's 1991 translation ignores this step completely--an oversight that reduces it to the level of a classroom exercise. Is Dorine, everyone's confidante, a maid, nanny, or governess? Tartuffe, the malevolent con artist, dresses in rags--but why would poverty impress the stodgy Orgon?
Director Alice M. Kroman demonstrates an adequate if spotty grasp of comic timing and choreography. A few performers--notably Karin McKie as Dorine, Janet Hurley as Elmire, and Scott Rowe as Cleante--manage to integrate the subtext with the script's rhymed and metered couplets. But only Michael Pacas as Orgon displays a clearly discernible personality. And Larry Dahlke as the charlatan Tartuffe is so harmlessly enigmatic that we puzzle at the strong reaction he provokes--unlike Judith Hoppe, who makes the most of her brief appearance as a smiling bailiff.
--Mary Shen Barnidge