by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Theatre Unleashed has done it again: an uproarious version of the classic Moliere play, Tartuffe, playing att the Belfry Stage @ The Crown, 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood, CA.

This theatre company’s season launch in association with Mad Magpie, is a treat for audiences who are notoriously opposed to classical theatre and those who actually love it. Were it not for the fact that Moliere is insane, Restoration plays utterly, spitefully, wickedly, lovable and the cast hilarious, it would have to be said that language plays are not their “thing;”  and alas, the casting a bit unusual as is the Ranjit Bolt translation of the script.  However, there were some excellent, aggressively played scenes and cast member renditions.

Tartuffe is Moliere’s infamous tale about a religious fraud who has deceived his way throughout the halls of the wealthy all the way to his current benefactor, a naive Orgon (J. Anthony McCarthy), who is ready to award him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Tartuffe (Phillip Kelly) has managed to cast his spell on son and mother, Madame Pernelle (Tracey Collins) who shout his praises from the rooftops, the salons, dining tables, churches and everywhere ordinary people are attempting to have normal pleasure.  It’s very annoying and has Orgon’s entire household up in arms, ready to revolt and as in Restoration style, naturally planning to do so.

It has been said that the character of Tartuffe was modeled after the husband of Duchess Mazarin, the Roman Eagle who’s uncle was the famous Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV’s overseer, guardian and unofficial ruler of France, in his young years. Hortense was Mazarin’s favorite niece and the richest woman in all of Europe at the time, richer even more than Louis, and courted by many of the kings of Europe including Charles II who asked for her hand, twice!  The Cardinal, however, on sympathy alone wedded his niece to an idiot relation; a rather poor cousin who was subject to downright fits of public propriety and most of the time dragged Hortense away from a glamorous life at court to pray for weeks on end in sack cloth and ashes, jail her in convents and generally curtail all fun until she could no longer could stomach the torture and escaped with several musketeers to freedom after a famous chase across the continent.

Luckily, that is not to be the fate of Orgon’s daughter, Mariane (Caroline Sharp); although it’s quite a close call none-the-less, but for some quick thinking on the part of Orgon’s steadfast wife, Elmire (Julia Plostnieks), keen wit and reasoning by Elmire’s brother, Cleante (Jim Martyka) and a “save” by the kicked aside but loyal amore in waiting to Mariane, Valere (Lee Pollero). And thankfully so, for Mariane’s brother/ althought played as a woman in a curious gender swtich, Damis (Corey Lynn Howe) who nearly blunders everything with his/her well-meaning but uncontrollable temper.

Without exception, two characters bring this performance to an unquestionable, lively frolic.  Dorine the Maid (Heather Lake ), infamously slutty, honest, wise, and proper all at once, is the energetic, insolent foil to Tartuffe in all of his droll, lethargically saccharin, public amen-ing, behind-the-scenes coveting and all out obsessive lusting for Orgon’s wife. It is a veritable showdown as to which one of them will outwit the other for control over Orgon’s sense and sympathy.  Both these actors utterly highlight the script and give audiences a way into the story that they can understand without trying too hard.  Both are respectively smartly entertaining and cunning, delivering frivolity, perspective and even gravity when necessary.

Good use of space including set design. Interesting direction.  It’s not brilliant but it all works and is certainly worth the ticket for a jolly good time! Managing Director Gregory Crafts makes a few timely and well noted appearances (how can he help it at well-over 6 feet tall – lol) as Flipote / Laurent / M. Loyal / Messenger in this production.