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Jun 23, 2001 - Nevada Rep's "Tartuffe: Born Again" Bears Its Cross Lightly
By Jack Neal
In this age of born-again Christian fervor, Moliere's masterpiece about religious hypocracy, "Tartuffe," is as relevant today as it was in 1667. Enter playwright Freyda Thomas whose "Tartuffe: Born Again" is an updated version of the old skin-and-skim game for misappropriated Christian funds.
Thomas's spin on all those good Christian profits opened Friday (6/22/2001) at the Redfield Studio Theater on the University of Nevada, Reno campus as the summer portion of the current Nevada Repertory Company season. The show, directed by Sue Klemp, is light summer fare that's given a light, if a bit noisy (the strident delivery of some lines), fun-loving production that for the most part pleases almost as much as Thomas's deft script pleases.
As long as there are hypocrites like Tartuffe in this world Moliere's tale of piety for profit will be timely. Thomas makes the threat of those who use religion for personal gain even more immediate by setting her adaptation in contemporary Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a holier-than-no-one con artist schemes to bamboozle Orgon, an affluent citizen, into financing his pray for-pay TV station.
Orgon, the patriarch of a wealthy family, has become enamored of the down-and-out religious fanatic, Tartuffe, and has brought him into his life where he creates endless disruptions. Tartuffe is in reality a zealot womanizer with a police record a mile long. Orgon arranges a marriage between Tartuffe and his daughter Maryann (who is in love with the energetic and young Valere) and signs over his fortune to his scheming religious-conniver friend. When Orgon's glamorous wife Elmire sets Tartuffe up in a seduction, Tartuffe's transparency becomes obvious and Orgon banishes him from his household. The wily Tartuffe is determined to hang on to his ill-gotten gains, but his record catches up with him just in the nick of time.
Thomas's well-crafted, refreshingly unacademic text, which combines 17th-century rhymed couplets with modern slang and Louisiana colloquialisms presents a challenge to this young Nevada Rep cast. But Klemp's farcical staging, the cast's effervescent delivery, broad characterizations and nimble physical comedy imbue the show with a vigor and exuberance that's captivating.
Kevin Molina is a slyly sleazy Tartuffe, more reminiscent of a hip- swivelling Elvis than lip-snivelling Jimmy Swaggart. As Orgon, Kevin M. Sak is a skilled rubber-faced comedian whose befuddled presence is a delight. Susan Lingelbach's stylish Elmire is sexy and funny. Amanda Ward is a gentle, sympathetic Maryann albeit with a steely determination to get what she wants. Brian Barney breezed through Cleante's lengthy speeches creating a fun-loving voice of reason out of all he has to say. Alison Swallow is a riot as the voluptuous and tart tongued Dorine. Richard Northey, Jr.'s cartoonish Valere is a pleasure, as is Casey Maxwell's hotheaded, excitable Damis and Kris Wallek's acid-tongued Mrs. Pernell.
Strong support is contributed by Kevin R. Ford, Blake W. Stephens, Chadaeos Clarno, Erika Frank and Cassie Joy Hill. Michael Fernbach's simple set and lighting worked well enough. The fun, often ill-fitting but to-good effect costumes were not too much of a distraction and certainly did not damage the looks of this attractive-looking cast. The undercover, bugging work (Praygate, perhaps) that set up the opening of each act is a nice comedic touch.
And, of course, all's well that ends well, which this show does well enough indeed. But beware, as Cleante reasons in his final-curtain bemusement: "You're safe, until another Tartuffe is born again." And, unfortunately - except for good entertainments such as this one, the Tartuffes of this world show no signs of disappearing.
"Tartuffe: Born Again" can be seen at the Redfield Studio Theatre, 900 North Virginia Street, Reno, Saturday (6/23/2001) at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday (6/27-30/2001) at 7:30 p.m. For information call 775 784-6847.
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