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    To Molire is human

    The latest adaptation of Moliere's "Tartuffe" has some ponderous performances but still delivers on the French classic's sense of fun.


    New translation, new music, new era: Jeff Cohen's updated adaptation and direction of Molire's "Tartuffe" excels in all three areas. The words are modern and funny, drawing us into 1930s Manhattan, delightfully underscored by Rick Hip Flores' lively piano pieces. The troubles of 18th-century France are replaced with our more recent, and more local, issues of the 20th century, including the KKK and the latest fashionable jihad. Rhyming couplets are a tricky business for actors, though, and too much of the poetry is delivered in a sing-songy manner that emphasizes the clever rhyme over the sense of the line itself. Every syllable is emphasized, as in "ex-as-per-a-tion to the point of hy-per-ven-ti-la-tion." Not only is this tough to listen to — for over two hours — but it diverts your attention from the story, which is a good one.

    Written by: Jeff Cohen.
    Based on the play by: Molire.
    Cast: Gerald Anthony, Keith Reddin, Jen Ryan, Crista Moore.
    Tribeca Playhouse
    111 Reade Street (at West Broadway)
    Jan. 16 - Feb. 16, 2002

    Moliere was a favorite of Louis XIV, who was nonetheless sensitive enough about Catholic politics to have had the play censored and its author thrown in jail after the first production. (Who could ask for better publicity these days?) The royal skin must've been pretty thin. Tartuffe (Gerald Anthony) is a con artist using the Catholic Church as his cover. His dupe is Orgon (Keith Reddin), a gullible millionaire who loves Tartuffe more than he does his own family. Orgon's family has Tartuffe figured out from the beginning, which brings about the crazed power struggle between patriarch and those who want his money.

    The setup makes for a spirited good time, if you can keep from getting bogged down in the rhyme-punching. Jeff Cohen has assembled an experienced group of stage actors (several have cracked the boards of Broadway), but even with this exceptional cast, much of the fun falls flat. Dorine (Jen Ryan) does a lovely job of getting the action going during the first two acts, keeping the energy level high. We're raring to go. Then Tartuffe walks through the door in Act Three and all the energy goes out the window. He speaks too softly to be heard easily, and he fails to keep up his half of the love scenes with Elmire (Crista Moore), leaving his would-be lover hanging high and dry because of his slow response time. And while Keith Reddin succeeds at bringing out the buffoonery, his attempts at physical comedy are mistimed at best. Lauren Helpern's sharp black-and-white set with line-drawn furniture on the backdrop — almost like a New Yorker cartoon! — was well complemented by the stylish formal costumes of Michael J. McDonald.

    If you've never seen a Molire play, this Worth Street production offers great production values, a smart adaptation and some good "bits" thrown in. The performance-proof plot makes for a sufficiently amusing evening, and the crowning glory is the wrap-up speech by the Police Officer (Adam Hirsch), in which we see shades of present-day Manhattan. Mr. Hirsch nails it!

    JANUARY 24, 2002

    Reader comments on Tartuffe:

  • Tartuffe   from Roberta Rana, May 25, 2002
  • moliere is human   from Bebe Dumass, Oct 21, 2003

  • Post a comment on "Tartuffe"