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Miami University’s Captivating, Fun “Tartuffe” Still Strikes a Strong Note

Review by Shawn Maus of Tartuffe: Miami University Theatre

Moliere may have written Tartuffe over 300 years ago, but it’s a lot of fun for today’s audience, especially with this captivating, delicious comedic production at Miami University.  It feels fresh and poignant as ever.

Lewis Magruder directs this fine ensemble of actors through the twisting plot with each performer grounding farcical moments in exuberance and physical humor. Although faced with difficult rhyming text, the entire cast is able to deliver the lines in a lively style.

The story revolves around Tartuffe, a conman pretending to be a devout, religious man,  who gains entry into the house of the wealthy Orgon, who is completely influenced by him and takes his every word as gospel. The title character himself doesn’t show up until one hour into the play, but until then we hear an awful lot about him. Madame Pernelle (Eleanor Alger in  inspired comical overacting of exaggerated gesture ) and Orgon, her son, are supporters of Tartuffe, bringing him off the street and into their house. The rest of the family despises him as a hypocrite and a falsely pious man who has taken over their home and condemned their way of life. Orgon even arranges for Tartuffe to marry his own dim-witted daughter, Mariane, something she reluctantly accepts despite the protests of the man she truly loves, Valere. Fed up with Orgon’s blind faith and lack of rationality, his family devises a plan to trap Tartuffe and expose his fraudulence. And that’s where the fun begins.

As Tartuffe, a handsome Sam Adams is properly reptilian, but Adams plays him with much subtlety, showing how a charismatic man of well-rehearsed charms and duplicity can sway the many — though not all — who seek unearned holiness. He is a a great comical villain, especially with his pseudo sinister expressions and brazenness of the televangelist type.

Bob Cobb brings dynamism and dignity to his portrayal of Orgon. He is both a clueless and likable stooge.  Cobb with his basso voice and clear diction make his blustering comedic timing priceless.

Kevin Garcia is a winner in the character of Valère who elicits laughs every time he overreacts to a perceived slight by his adored Mariane (with Katie Boissoneault’s Mariane matching him comic stroke for stroke). His command of expression in scenes of forlorn love against those highlighting his virtue are performed with charisma and a “gee-shucks” lost boy attitude that of scene stealing fun.

Kaite Boissoneault’s effervescent, loopy portrayal of Mairane (Orgon’s daughter) brings to mind Ann-Margaret in Bye Bye Birdie – a very pretty, yet unsure teenager.

Of all the characters, Dorine has the meatiest part, and embodied by Elizabeth Bode she is not pigeonholed into a standard “executive assistant” character.  Bode’s portrayal is commanding, yet soft, brimming with sharp comedic expressions easily registered on her face even when she is upstage and the audience members in the back of the house were thoroughly enjoying the snarky looks and grimaces. She plays the character with a bounce in every step and is smart and sarcastic.

Abby Chafe plays Elmire with just the right amount of Mae West strut and sauciness.   As Police Officer, although a minor role who comes in at the end of Act Two to arrest Tartuffe and neatly wrap up the plot, actor Kevin Vestal, shows tremendous dedication to his character and makes use of his short time on stage with a great presence as the angel-like royal messenger with the moral of the story.

Brooke Vespoli’s’ makeup  is  a highlight of the show. Meggan Peters’  wardrobe of vivid colors against a grayscale pallet gives an extra flourish to each of the actors’ characterizations.

The enormously talented student production crew shows its love of design with a classical set as its porticos beautifully convey the architecture of a Georgian mansion. Gion DeFrancesco’s set design (a raked stage with an elliptical cornice!) indicates the family’s affluence and interest in style.

Thoroughly entertaining and engaging this Tartuffe is great way to send-off the Miami University theatre season. I had a smile on my face the entire time. Tartuffe plays at Miami University through Saturday night May 5th. Visit the website http://miamioh.edu/cca/academics/departments/theatre/ for ticket information.