Tartuffe | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Tartuffe, City Lit Theater Company. Director Kevin Theis is true to every tone in Moliere's 1664 masterwork, treating it not as the tragedy it threatens to become but as the comedy it must be. In this expose of a religious hypocrite, Tartuffe blares his sins to the world, perversely flourishing on exposure. But while he blathers about original sin, he also covets the wife of his duped benefactor, Orgon, and schemes to destroy the hopes of two lovers and evict Orgon, even imprison him on a trumped-up charge.

Richard Wilbur's perfect translation threatens to improve on the original at times, and Rebecca Hamlin's ornate, fluid baroque set pieces elegantly frame Thomas K. Kieffer's sumptuous costumes, several of them worthy of Versailles. (A cavil: Tartuffe would surely sport a crucifix.)

Though at times overly broad, Theis's staging never misses a plot point or sacrifices the verse to the sight gags: he creates an alliance between Moliere's words and the wily comic business that fuels this farce. And the contrasts between characters are cunning: Jan Blixt's saucy maid, mistress of a thousand mocking faces, literally sets off Will Schutz's splenetic Orgon, a fool who thrives on ignorance. Don Bender's solid common sense as the reasoning relation, Orgon's brother-in-law, crashes headlong into Martha Adrienne's fanaticism as Orgon's true-believing mother. Finally, Page Hearn's smooth-faced Tartuffe reinvents the banality of evil. All of them thoroughly deserve each other.

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