“Tartuffe” has become a secular passion play for LA audiences. It’s staged frequently, in a variety of styles, and it’s message always underlined as particularly timely and pertinent to the day. Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe’s translaptation is a light, fun romp and a surprisingly faithful representation of the story. This is not CG’s “Patriot Act: The Reality Show” from 2004. That systematic destruction of a naive, patriotic schlub by the surveillance state and its media enablers was eerily on point and prescient. This is Molière as maskless commedia of Beverly Hills riche on a spiffy modernist set. Then as now, Bo Roberts plays the dupe. M. Orgon’s home, daughter, and trophy wife are slowly suborned by a homeless holy man. We watch the con much like a television audience might with the occasional video projection providing backstory. The similarity to modern reality shows is an exercise for the viewer. I don’t watch tv, I don’t even own one.
The bulk of Michel’s cast goes full throttle, each inhabiting his or her own world-within-a-world. Saucy maid Dorine (a gender-bent J. Carlos Flores) takes on her bosses in Spanglish, daughter Mariane and her beau (Megan Kim, John Hayden) carry on in Valspeak, noble young Damis (Johnny Langan) is hell-bent on saving his family while harboring feelings for his stepmother. Roberts’s Orgon fumes and blusters, Trace Taylor shines as Mme. Pernelle, and David Frank’s restrained Cléante is the only sane one of the bunch. At times supporting players come off as talking past one another. The two characters typically allowed depth are Orgon’s wife (Chelsea Militano) and the titular Tartuffe (George Villas) and so it is here. Willowy, elegant Militano, who would be at home on a volleyball court, plays Elmire as absolutely comfortable with who and what she is. She likes the sweet life, regards it as her due, and has no qualms marrying into it. Waugh had it right. Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything. Villas executes the piety and sleaze nicely and the famous seduction scene with Orgon in the arras flies.
Politics is deferred to the last ten minutes. It’s no secret that this play ends with all being restored for the noblesse thanks to the all-seeing eye that looks favorably on the rich and punishes the aspirant. It is all right to marry for money but running the ruling class’s con game against itself will not be tolerated. There might even be the merest flash of sympathy for Tartuffe-as-Uriah-Heep, feigning humility as the only way to take his revenge on a hopelessly stratified society. So, we have a fine production of a classic play but the lingering question is why and why now? The countless stagings of Tartuffe and other satires have made as much a dent in hypocrisy and gullibility as have e-petitions for social justice. The establishment knows that no lasting movements will result from either and simply keeps on keeping on. CG loves Molière and has been alternating highly abstract works with accessible ones. It is likely that this is a little fun and frolic to limber up for an ambitious season of reinvestigations of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. Müller’s Hamletmachine is next followed by Young Jean Lee’s Lear and Duncombe’s take on Othello.
“Tartuffe by Molière: A Reality Show”
September 11 – November 1, 2015
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Produced by Charles A. Duncombe
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)