Moliere’s “Tartuffe” at Seattle Shakespeare

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R. Hamilton Wright as Tartuffe and Peter Lohnes as Orgon. Photo by John Ulman

Moliere meets Mel Brooks in this absolutely marvelous Seattle Shakespeare production. Using the Richard Wilbur translation of Tartuffe, Director Makaela Pollock has mounted it as a 1950s romp that just never slows down.

You know the story, I’m sure. The charlatan Tartuffe, has weaseled his way into the household of the gullible but wealthy Orgon. Claiming to be a man of piety and religious zeal, Tartuffe is really nothing but a pious fraud, one scheming to steal away the gullible Orgon’s fortune as well as his daughter, but only after seducing Orgon’s wife. Not a nice guy, this Tartuffe, and R. Hamilton Wright captures his smarmy piousness combined with his insidious dishonesty.

It’s a play where physical humor is given full reign and these talented cast members excel at every opportunity to show their stuff. As the play opens, Suzy Hunt, the family’s grand dame, rules the stage. Presumptuous, acerbic, and self confident, she commands with arched eyebrows, pursed lips, and innumerable other facial contortions.

Then comes Bhama Roget as Dorine the sharp-tongued maid who may be the wisest member of this household, and who is equally gifted at nonverbal communication. Every gesture and every look add volumes to what she says.

It’s a madcap farce where everyone but Orgon, who heads the household, and his mother realize that Tartuffe is a scoundrel. Peter Lohnes as Orgon makes a fine well-to-do, well raised, too trusting, yet incredibly hard-headed dupe. Not wife nor children, nor trusted servants can convince him that Tartuffe is anything but a saintly man of God. He naively defends the scoundrel despite all evidence.

The juxtaposition of the calm and saintly fraud within a household gone mad in its attempt to free Orgon from his delusions is simply delicious. All chaos reigns as the satin-robed Tartuffe glides peacefully through the mess his treachery has created.

This is a joyous gambol. Though lighthearted as it is, it is a timely reminder that there are always charlatans among us. We do well to be on guard.

Through April 12, by Seattle Shakespeare Company, at The Center Theater in The Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

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