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a Comedy
by Moliere, translated by Christopher Hampton

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 4973

SHOWING : October 07, 2016 - October 22, 2016



CenterStage North takes on Moliere’s classic comedy "Tartuffe, The Imposter." The play is set in the home of Orgon, a wealthy, well respected gentleman who has enjoyed both financial and political success. His two children hope to marry soon but are living at the family home at present. Their mother is dead and Orgon has remarried the young and beautiful Elmire. Engulfed by the insecurity of middle-age, Orgon has become increasingly religious. Whilst in Church he has been befriended by an apparently sanctimonious and impoverished man named Tartuffe. Orgon is full of respect for Tartuffe’s pious ways. Tartuffe appears intent on ensuring Orgon’s path to heaven is unobstructed. While Orgon devotes attention to celestial matters, his wealth and his beautiful young wife will, of course, require protection. Tartuffe is most magnanimous and volunteers to ensure that neither falls into the wrong hands. It’s funny, it’s bawdy, it’s "Tartuffe!"

Director Kevin Renshaw
Orgon Jeffrey Bigger
Laurent Kenneth Cohen
Damis Max Flick
Cleante Reggie Harper
Mariane Jessie Hughes
Valere Dax Lyle
Tartuffe Freddy Lynn Wilson
Elmire Karen Worrall
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La Comédie Française
by playgoer
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Productions of comic masterworks from a previous age need to straddle the line between respect for the original text and respect for the comic sensibilities of a modern audience. CenterStage North does a generally good job of this, but the wordiness of the text tends to bog down the initial scene of the story.

Moliere’s storyline delays the entrance of the title character until the play is well underway, which provides a lot of build-up and the potential for a big let-down if the skills of the actor don’t measure up to the role. Here, Freddy Lynn Wilson is equal to the challenge, but that’s not to say that the play is ideally cast. Both he and Dax Lyle (who plays Valere) seem to have been cast for their slender physiques as much as anything, providing a great contrast to the robust physique of Jeffrey Bigger as Orgon.

Mr. Bigger’s portrayal gives Orgon lots of bluster and bile, but it doesn’t seem calibrated to explain at all why he has been taken in by the pious spell of Tartuffe. Mr. Bigger has the evil laugh of a stock melodrama villain and doesn’t seem to be subservient to his mother (played by Nancy Jensen), who is the only one also under Tartuffe’s spell. We have Mr. Bigger in what is targeted as a star farewell turn on the boards of CenterStage North, but his performance does nothing to illuminate the situation at the core of the story.

Everyone else in the cast seems to be playing their roles to point up Moliere’s plot. LeeAnna Lambert is particularly adept in her highly comic role as the upstart servant Dorine. Directors Jenifer and Kevin Renshaw have filled the play with comic touches that in the hands of a top-notch cast would spark the comedy into the stratosphere. Here, much of the cast isn’t quite up to the task. Even when a portrayal is as absolutely fine as is Karen Worrall’s as Elmire, the casting provides an age disparity that doesn’t reinforce the comedy.

The physical production is also a bit disappointing, although much of it is fine. Gabrielle Hainey’s props are impressive, and Erica Overhulser Gehring’s costumes are a visual feast (although Dorine’s seems to come from a different century than the others). Brenda Orchard’s sound design features appropriate Gallic selections for pre-show music and scene-changing interludes, and Brad Rudy’s lighting is inventive, although upstage shadowplay of Tartuffe before his entrance is a bit easy to miss on the backstage wall (especially since there’s a totally unused, shuttered window in the set right in front of it).

What’s really lacking is in the dressing of David Shelton’s set. The bare bones of the set are okay, but the stark white walls, crude painting, and clumps of flowers on fence and trellises give the feel of a middle school production at best. The design is inventive, with green lawn sections at left and right and a lovely garden view up center, and it certainly uses the full width of the space, but both sides of the set have what look like the exteriors of medieval buildings, although centerstage right acts more as an interior location. Blocking gives the action a nice flow and good sightlines, but there’s a flatness to the visual aspects of the show that prevent it from being all it could be.

CenterStage North deserves credit for presenting a comic masterpiece from another age that isn’t often performed. The comedy picks up as the play goes along, so the final impression audiences will have is likely to be favorable. There’s a lot to like in the production, but it seems grasp has exceeded reach in trying to bring the story to life. Yet with sell-out crowds, boffo box office receipts should be well within reach for CenterStage North. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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