Monday, June 2, 2014

Impressions of Tartuffe From the Playbill Journal of Karen Cruise Kirby

Suzanne Warmanen and Steven Epp in Tartuffe.
A South Coast Repertory subscriber for three decades, Karen Cruise Kirby writes her impressions about each production on the program’s playbill. Read more about Kirby to learn about her love affair with theatre.

Here are excerpts from her thoughts about Tartuffe.

“[Tartuffe] was one of my favorite productions over several seasons, with the exception of Midsummer. Never have I seen this done with such dark humor.

“The Tartuffe character as played tonight reminded me of Iago: sinister, deceiving, without moral character. Religious symbolism was everywhere, some so subtle and some not so much. It bared the religious zealots as charlatans with the delicacy of a hammer.

“Loved how Tartuffe slithered on the ground like a serpent, a devil in disguise, and how Elmire melted within that voluminous dress until she was flat on her back, symbolic of how she was succumbing to him. The staging was like watching a series of Chagall paintings set to a ballet.

“Each scene segment led to another, which led to another, as all participants in each scene posed for not only a visual but a balanced composition effect.

“The characters, as they posed onstage, became part of the scenery. This was especially true of Dorine, whose grey costume blended in with the set when she was moved to the background. However, the lighting design created a stark contrast when she was center stage and center of the action. The other two “twin” maids were like bookends, and their running from place to place kept the play in constant motion.

“Cleante and Laurent were the ying to the maids’ yang. The two women fluttered about; the two men moved in measured, precise motions that ended in affected poses. The men’s shoes were characters themselves and paid homage to the French shoes of the period when men posed to “show a leg.” These two men flowed from one show-a-leg pose to another. Their affectations were the perfect foil as they portrayed acolytes to the false zealot Tartuffe. Disrespectful, fawning, arrogant, they commanded the audience’s attention. I kept wondering what obnoxious, offensive action was coming up next from them. They did not disappoint.

Steven Epp and Luverne Seifert in Tartuffe.
“I found the movement of the chairs fascinating. They were different sizes, different styles, and only one of a kind. One was used as a prayer rail. The chairs, like the maids, were in constant motion and provided movement to the play. There was a sweet choreography going on with those chairs, especially when the one was pulled out from under Elmira as she tried to sit down. The chairs were on, then off, then moved to alcoves. They were dragged stage left, dragged stage right, and dragged right off the stage. At the end of the play, it is a chair that is the final step to reach the lock to the doors. Was that a stairway, a chairway, to heaven?

“The set … provided an exquisite backdrop for the costumes. Orgon, always in black, stood out in stark contrast to the grey. The vibrant reds and blues of Marianne and Elmire stood out against the grey, their colors intensified by the contrast. Elmira’s blue gown, like the men’s black shoes, gave homage to the era of the play. The gown’s volume gave movement and depth. It gave her power because it commanded so much of the stage. She controlled the space as she controlled the movement of the gown. That made her melting into the floor a powerful, visual impact. She went from a woman in control to a woman flat and intimidated.

“Dorine (Suzanne Warmanen) commanded that stage. The interaction between Orgon and her, when she refused to shut up, was not only hilarious, the comic timing was impeccable. When she spoke, we listened because she was the voice of reason. I wanted her to keep talking!

“Damis (Brian Hostenske) seemed to be doing an OAA (Over Acting Anonymous) but on reflection, I realized his contortions and gyrations were in direct contrast to the measured movements of Tartuffe’s sycophants.

“Tartuffe (Steven Epp) had an impeccable command of his character. I had a visceral reaction to this guy. I hated him. He oozed false piety. His underlying evil was evident as he professed his faith. It is a testament to an actor when the audience can buy into the multi-facets of a character. This was a three-dimensional portrayal. Thank you, Mr. Epp.

“I am 30-year subscriber. Rarely do I give a standing O. I did so tonight as soon as Ms.Warmanen took her bow. She, along with Mr. Seifert and Mr. Epp, gave outstanding performances. I could do nothing less than express my appreciation.”

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