Jean Baptiste Poquelin was born into a prosperous bourgeois Parisian family in 1622 and died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1673, after performing in his play The Imaginary Invalid. His coughing brought laughter and he collapsed on stage; he died at 51 the same day, February 17, 1673. He took the name Moliere after he began his acting career, apparently to spare his father from shame since he’d been jailed for his and his partner Madeleine Bejart’s debts from their acting troupe.
Translated by Richard Wilbur, Tartuffe is a comedic farce written, and still revered for its relevance in its sharp lampooning of pious hypocrisy and the fools who can’t see through it. Seattle Shakespeare’s production opens at the home of Orgon (Peter Lohnes), a prosperous business man and widower who lives with his second wife Elmire (Christine Marie Brown), son Damis (Alex Matthews) and daughter Mariane (Maya Sugarman) from his first marriage, his daughter’s impertinent lady’s maid Dorine (Bhama Roget) and the conspicuously pious Tartuffe (R. Hamilton Wright) and Tartuffe’s valet Laurent (Riley Shanahan).
Orgon's visiting mother Madame Pernelle (the incomparable Suzy Hunt) is railing at his family and guests, Dorine’s brother Cl'ante and Mariane's fiancée Val're (Quinn Armstrong), about their extravagant entertainments, fancy wardrobes, the maid’s impertinence, the disparaging language and disrespect for the Church’s teachings, but most especially, everyone’s scorn and contempt for Tartuffe and his power he’s developed over Orgon. Tartuffe totally bamboozles Orgon who’s unaware of the way he uses piety to turn every person’s concern to his advantage.
Cl'ante and Dorine are the only ones who speak freely to Orgon and to Tartuffe about the abuse the family is enduring at the scoundrel’s hands.
Orgon had promised Marianne that she can marry Valere but in the fashion of daughters of the 17th century, she has no power to resist her father when he decides to wed her to Tartuffe. If Marianne doesn’t marry her love, Damis will have a very difficult time getting betrothed to Valere’s sister. In fact, Orgon makes Tartuffe, besides his future son-in-law, his only heir, disinheriting his only son, Damis.
Orgon won't believe the others and it’s not until he’s seen Tartuffe attempt to seduce Emile with his own eyes that he believes in the perfidy of Tartuffe. Orgon's lost his home, daughter and possessions and Tartuffe glories in it when confronted. The king’s loyalty rescues Orgon and his family and imprisons Tartuffe. All’s Well that Ends Well.
Director Makaela Pollock keeps the timing to the razor sharp edge of farce. Everyone is spit spot on time and articulate. Madame Pernelle could have spoken a little slower in scene one, but her power in enunciation was powerful.
Carol Wolfe Clay’s set was ‘50s style. Coffee tables, couches, chairs, the gold ochre walls and modern art were things I remembered from '50s movies. Most of the people in my life then were too economical or poor to employ the latest trends. Our homes were giveaway or garage sale furniture, mom-recovered couches and living room chairs, chrome-legged kitchen tables and chairs and '40s kitchen ranges and fridges. Orgon’s family was definitely rich or very well off.
The costumes by Christine Meyers are pure '50s with Marianne's pert tennis outfit, Dorine’s negligee and cross over bodice evening dress and the men’s restrained slacks and shirts. The only anomalies were Damis’ burnt orange slacks and loud Hawaiian shirt. Well, also Tartuffe's clerical garb - soft grey cassock and scapular with a light magenta robe. The funniest item of his clothing was the medallion he wore around his neck, a silver CD with something glued over the hole. Orgon also wore one at home.
Tartuffe runs through March 28th. Call 206-733-8222 or go to the website seattleshakespeare.org to get more information or buy tickets.
The troupe is offering a one night performance of MacBeth by their traveling troupe on March 29th at 7:30 p.m. at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, the former Intiman Playhouse.
They announced their 2015-2016 series at Tartuffe. For information see their website and look at their Wooden O summer schedule as well.