Presented by the Huntington Theatre Co.
Translated by Ranjit Bolt
Directed by Peter DuBois
Choreography by Daniel Pelzig
Original music by Peter Golub
Fight direction by Ted Hewlett
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) If you haven’t seen #metoo then it’s likely you’ve been under a proverbial rock. Female and male victims of sexual assault rallied their cry in solidarity with the women accusing Harvey Weinstein of years of criminal misconduct. Weinstein is a pig enabled by others so focused on their own careers/pocketbooks that they wouldn’t stop him. Whether intentional or not, the Huntingington’s Tartuffe is a reflection of the news cycle. In our own backyard, Berklee School of Music harbored rapist professors. “Good” men can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves.
In Tartuffe, Orgon (Frank Wood), the patriarch, leads through fear and tantrums. Through both, he has immersed his family of sinners in the sham cult of the faux-religious fanatic Tartuffe (Brett Gelman). In an effort to save Orgon’s mind and their family fortunes, the family sets out to convince Orgon of Tartuffe’s con artistry. They are aided by the soubrette Dorine (Jane Pfitsch), the cunning house manager, and abetted by Elmire (Melissa Miller), the wife whom Orgon clearly married for her brains.
The invisible details of this production are what make it so successful. In particular, the prop work is unusually excellent. There are drowned cell phones, religious paraphernalia, and a mighty taser that sink this 1664 play into the twenty-first century. The makeup design is stark but bloody; the lipstick looks like a knife wound across the face. The scenic design turns the stage into a gilded cage. The sound design heightens each mood.
Gelman’s performance reminds me of an funny because it’s deadly serious Amy Schumer sketch. The sketch features Schumer as a retail associate selling glasses to serial killers. She only convinces a predatory cult-leader to leave her alone only by mentioning her “boyfriend.” She’s then accused of putting off a “vibe.” Tartuffe’s skeevy behavior is unexceptional. That Gelman hits the nail on the head while being both funny and uncannily realistic, is. Gelman reminds me of too many of guys with whom I attended church, blind-dated and worked at tech companies.
Wood is the oddly protective Dad/friend to Gelman’s perv. Orgon is recognizable as the guy making excuses for Tartuffe’s horrible behavior. Wood is likable as an actor but Orgon is wholly unlikable as a character.
It’s the women who save the day and steal the show. Pfitsch as Dorine is dressed as a militant feminist but she’s the family’s savior. Pfitsch delivers her role with all the candor a heroine deserves. Miller gives us stalwart bravery in the face of such untenable corruption. Sarah Oakes Muirhead charms with her physical comedy.
Paula Plum (as Madame Pernelle) attacked the stage like Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Meanwhile, the skills of Katie Elinoff, Steven Barkhimer, and Omar Robinson were wasted. The vast well that is Boston’s capacity of exceptional artists deserves better and more from the Huntington.
In the end, Tartuffe is about the free emotional work that women must do in order to make life better for everyone. Ladies and Gents, you don’t have to pay better attention to catch villains. It’s as simple as believing women when they speak up. If a “Good Guy™” like Tartuffe can’t stop himself from harassing, manipulating, or assaulting, he’s not a “good” guy. He’s a predator. Predators belong in jail. Tartuffe gets there but it takes a family of women to do the work before the King can take the credit.
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD