Peter Robel’s mostly traditional production of Molière’s farce takes place in a semicontemporary no-man’s-land, where corsets coexist with S&M gear and language contains both antiquated, aristocratic argot and present-day swear words. The piece is lively, visually stylish and savvy. It is also strangely, almost insistently, unfunny.
The trouble stems from the actors’ insistence on barreling through Ranjit Bolt’s translation, which maintains Molière’s rhyming couplet structure. With few exceptions (including Devan O’Mailia’s Mariane and Chris Ballou’s Valère), the cast seems hell-bent on hitting the rhyme at the end of each line rather than enlivening the language within the verse—a fundamental misstep in an otherwise sophisticated production. The piece thus takes on a somnolent quality, lulling us through singsongy couplets into gentle indifference even in its most outrageous scenes. The only moments that elicit true laughs are the silent ones—a sex gesture made in inappropriate company, or a character appearing suddenly in partial undress.
That said, Molière’s tale—which chronicles the posing-as-pious Tartuffe’s attempts to swindle and make a cuckold of the gentlemanly Orgon—is full of enticing wordplay and an amusing, ever-advancing plot. The production features warm, almost romantic lighting by Nick Belley and lush period-with-a-twist costumes by Kate Setzer Kamphausen. Molière’s deus ex machina ending feels rushed and silly even by the standards of a farce, but it puts a tidy-enough bow on the proceedings to satisfy.
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