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Review: 'Tartuffe' at A Noise Within is a delightful revival

“Tartuffe” returns to A Noise Within’s repertoire after 22 years, and it proves worth the wait. Molière's deathless assault on religious hypocrisy could hardly be more pertinent at present, which gives Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s elegantly quirky staging an extra soupçon of satirical thrust.

And there’s ample comic skewering afoot, from the opening group pavane to composer Robert Oriol’s evocative faux-French music onward. Taking a light-handed approach to Richard Wilbur’s venerable translation, Rodriguez-Elliott and her reliable design and acting forces run the gamut, from drollery to slapstick and back again.

Deluded protagonist Orgon (Geoff Elliott) here becomes a cat glasses-sporting, Hans Conried-sounding fussbudget, while the titular human fungus (Freddy Douglas) suggests equal parts Bette Davis, Ronald Colman, Bill Hader’s “SNL” character Stefon and a honey badger.

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Admittedly, Tartuffe’s fraudulence takes until Act 2 to register, since Douglas’ ersatz piety is all too convincing, and Elliott’s ire occasionally flirts with melodrama. Nonetheless, both actors have a field day, and their colleagues, resplendent in designer Angela Balogh Calin’s gorgeous costumes, respond with panache.

Thus, Alison Elliott gives a breakout turn as daughter Mariane in a priceless ingénue/juvenile pairing with the redoubtable Rafael Goldstein as suitor Valère. Carolyn Ratteray’s witty stepmother Elmire, Stephen Rockwell's articulate uncle Cléante and company mainstay Deborah Strang’s cigarette-sneaking maid Dorine are among other standouts amid a laudable ensemble. William Dennis Hunt's climactic appearance, leading a royal contingent straight out of the Folies Bergère, is easily worth admission.

Overall it's a delightful revival. If the darker nuances at times threaten the cascading hilarity, that won’t prohibit the enjoyment of so swankly appointed, proficiently acted a classical bauble as this representative company melee.

“Tartuffe,” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Runs in repertory; see website for schedule.  Ends May 24. $34 and up. (626) 356-3100, Ext. 1 or www.anoisewithin.org. Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

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