The NAC English Theatre has opened their season with an unusually lively production of Moliere’s TARTUFFE, the play that skewers religious hypocrisy. This is not your father’s TARTUFFE. Very loosely adapted and even more loosely translated by Andy Jones, this version is set in 1939 at the home of a wealthy merchant on the South Coast of Newfoundland. Mr. Jones has retained Moliere’s plot, characters and even his rhyming couplets. The couplets are in the vernacular, which adds to the humor, in particular the incongruities of contemporary slang and sexual references.
Patrick Clark’s sumptuous two-story 1930s set is complete with exterior balconies, other houses silhouetted in the distance and even a laundry line. I especially liked the moose head and portrait of Queen Victoria and the use to which they were put. Rebecca Picharack’s lighting was fine and Marie Sharp’s costumes on the whole excellent, right down to the seams in the ladies’ stockings. Mariane’s black shoes struck a discordant note, but both Elmire’s wig and Act II dress were very good.
This season’s ensemble cast is a strong one. Eliza-Jane Scott as the maid Flipote seems quite at home with the slapstick staging while Sheldon Elter as the Officer is a riot with his military gestures. Leah Doz is very good as Mariane, especially in her fight scene with her suitor Valere, played with relish by David Coomber. Mr. Coomber is a terrific natural comic and his self-dramatizing character is actually believable. The weak link in the cast is Quancetia Hamilton as Madame Pernelle, as she uses such a heavy Jamaican dialect she’s almost impossible to understand.
Speaking of accents, as Dorine, the spunky maid who is a pivotal character, Petrina Bromley uses a fairly heavy Newfoundland dialect. However, she’s very good in the role and her headfirst slide down the stair is a hoot. She also has one of my favorite lines, “Tartuffe is your castor oil and you must swallow him.”
As Damis, Eric Davis is truly his father’s son with the same quick temper. Dimitry Chepovetsky does a nice job as the levelheaded Cleante while Christine Brubaker is an excellent Elmire, especially in the seduction scene, which is pure farce.
The always-excellent Joey Tremblay is very good as the overly credulous Orgon. His scene at the end of Act I with his son shows him at his hotheaded best. Andy Jones, who is a very popular Canadian comic, plays the pseudo-religious Tartuffe with oily charm and plenty of smarm. We rejoice in his comeuppance.
Doreen Taylor-Claxton has done a very nice job with the hymn-singing crossovers. Artistic Director Jillian Keiley, with the assistance of Andy Massingham, has staged the many slapstick bits to within an inch of their lives. Not only that, but she’s helped her cast keep the characters believable in spite of the hilarity.
A sense of humor is a very individual thing. Although over 90% of the audience was chortling and laughing a lot, my neighbor dozed off and for some reason this production didn’t tickle my funny bone either. This version of TARTUFFE, though, is consistent and very well done. If you enjoy good acting, a clever script and lots of slapstick, TARTUFFE is for you.
By Molière, adapted by Andy Jones
Produced by the NAC English Theatre
At the NAC through Nov. 2 – Tickets: 613-236-7000
Director: Jillian Keiley
Set: Patrick Clark
Costumes: Marie Sharpe
Lighting: Rebecca Picherack
Musical Director: Doreen Taylor-Claxton
Movement Coach: Andy Massingham
Dialect Coach: Heather Hill
Co-Composer: Pamela Morgan
Stage Manager: Stefanie Seguin
Orgon: Joey Tremblay
Madame Pernelle: Quancetia Hamilton
Damis: Eric Davis
Mariana: Leah Doz
Dorine: Petrina Bromley
Flipote: Eliza-Jane Scott
Elmire: Christine Brubaker
Cleante: Dmitry Chepovetsky
Valere: David Coomber
Tartuffe: Andy Jones
Leander Loyal & Officer: Sheldon Elter