'Tartuffe' stays fresh

It’s been nearly two decades since theater company A Noise Within, now in Pasadena, last revisited Molière’s satiric masterwork, “Tartuffe.” Its new production of the 17th century classic, running in repertory through May 24, resumes performances on Sunday, and seeing the company’s deft frolic through this all too timely skewering of religious hypocrisy, the question is — what took them so long?

The play opens with a ball given by Elmire (Carolyn Ratteray), the attractive wife of Orgon, the master of the house. The unrestrained revelry disgusts the family matriarch, Madame Pernelle (Jane Macfie), who leaves in high dudgeon (Macfie does delightful high dudgeon) after counseling the family to mirror the pious rectitude of the absent Tartuffe, lately come to stay at the invitation of his new benefactor and convert, Orgon (Geoff Elliott in Dame Edna-ish glasses, expertly mining the role’s humorous nuances).

The family sees Tartuffe for the greedy, manipulative fraud that he is and all are alarmed at his influence over increasingly sanctimonious Orgon, who tells his brother-in-law Cléante (stalwart Stephen Rockwell), in essence, that the family can go jump. Only Tartuffe, the path to eternal salvation, is worthy.

In directing Richard Wilbur’s definitive verse translation of the classic, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott doesn’t dig deep, but her sure touch with controlled, boisterous buffoonery doesn’t eclipse contemplation of the insidious cost of religious charlatanism.

Orgon orders daughter Mariane to break her engagement to her true love Valère and marry Tartuffe, then doubles down, disinheriting hapless son Damis (Mark Jacobson) for reporting Tartuffe’s attempt to seduce Elmire.

Only when Elmire convinces him to hide and witness Tartuffe in lecherous action — a riotous pas de deux between Ratteray and Douglas — does Orgon, after signing over to Tartuffe all of his worldly goods, realize that he has been duped. Tartuffe, however, unrepentant, orders the family to vacate the premises. It takes royal intervention to set things right, a zany capper to the show that involves a hilarious turn by William Dennis Hunt, a glittering disco ball and scantily clad chorus girls.

Other highlights: Alison Elliott’s sweet, not-so-bright Mariane, well-matched by Rafael Goldstein’s wan dandy Valère; outstanding Deborah Strang as Orgon’s saucy, outspoken, cigarette-smoking maid; and Douglas’ Tartuffe, garbed with deliberate intent in a snowy white robe and secure in his dominance over Orgon, slurping down wine and gobbling food from silver plates at a long, Last Supper-ish table.

A veteran production team ensures that the show looks and sounds a treat, too. Composer Robert Oriol’s expressive, French-flavored original music underscores both ambiance and action throughout. Lighting designer Ken Booth and sound designer Emily Lehrer provide top-notch support, and Angela Balogh Calin’s lacy, silky, satiny period costumes are a lavish complement to the elegance of set designer Frederica Nascimento’s black, white and red color scheme, lofty multipaned windows and cushioned footstools — and the frothy heaps of petticoats that frame Mariane’s boudoir are an inspired touch.

What: “Tartuffe”

Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, March 23 and May 18; 7:30 p.m. April 10; 8 p.m. April 18, 19 and May 2; 7 p.m. April 20; 2 and 8 p.m. May 24. Ends May 24.

Admission: Start at $34.

More info: (626) 356-3100, www.ANoiseWithin.org.


LYNNE HEFFLEY writers about theater and culture for Marquee.

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