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May 20, 2020 | Reviews

Tartuffe: The Show Does Go On at Cache Theatre Company’s Facebook Page

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Erika Stauffer

Inventively using video-calls to produce a show while social distancing, the Cache Theatre Company brings to Facebook their production of the theatre classic Tartuffe. Acclaimed French playwright Molière originally wrote the play in 1664. King Louis XIV quickly termed its first production “extremely diverting [fun or entertaining]” even as he censored the show—the titular character is a pious hypocrite who wraps a gullible man around his finger and wreaks havoc on the household. This production of the play, translated to English by Richard Wilbur, retains the original’s eleven-syllable couplets from beginning to end, delighting linguistically even as the characters draw viewers in.

The show welcomes the audience into the household with six stacked screens and a peal of warm laughter. Since each character is wholly portrayed through a box centered on the actor’s face, each actor is constantly isolated on center-stage, creating a unique viewing experience that focuses on characters’ responses; it’s as if viewers watch the characters when speaking and the characters’ inner thoughts when listening to other characters. Karen Teuscher (Mme Pernelle) personifies the indignant grandmother, directing the opening dispute and returning as a formidable will toward the end of the play. Peter Taylor (Damis) glares and laughs in mocking anger throughout, making clear his character’s attitude toward Tartuffe. Meanwhile, Taylor Hague (Cleante) provides a welcome reasonable presence, insistent and calm against the other characters’ strong personalities. This is especially evident in his one-on-one interactions, such as with Lotti Sidwell (Dorine) and Jared Rounds (Orgon).

Sidwell and Rounds, along with Nicole Martineau (Elmire), prove the most memorable in this video-call format. As the maid, Sidwell’s sarcasm is fiery. Whether mocking or calmly agreeing, her opinion toward every word to drop out of anybody’s mouth is always readily apparent, making her one of the most entertaining characters to watch. The man of the house is similarly entertaining as Rounds transitions between attentive listening, dismissive hand-waving, asking “And Tartuffe?!” and generally being the boisterous, gullible, childlike Orgon. The character’s nearly over-done portrayal builds beautifully on the character’s personality and the constant center-stage effect of the video-call. Martineau as Elmire, Orgon’s wife, also does well showing her character’s thoughts, laughing and cringing at Tartuffe’s advances. Most notable to me is the way she ties an action to dialogue to carry a message later: although Cameron Cook (Tartuffe) cannot actually touch her clothes as their dialogue indicates, Martineau pulls at her blouse’s collar, indicating her discomfort at the imagined action. Later, Martineau again pulls at her collar when Tartuffe turns dangerously insistent. That tugging, now combined with downward glances, indicate that same discomfort as before, now compounded with her desire for Orgon to rescue her. Elmire’s emotions were palpable. Adding to this group, Chrissy Webster embodies Mariane’s part to the T, always the submissive daughter but allowing shock, sadness, coldness, and pleading to emerge through it. She truly lights up when smiling at Valère, played by Levi Blad. The initial interaction between these two beautifully portrays two people who, despite deeply hurt feelings, actually do love each other. Blad’s performance at the end, emoting his sincere dismay at the situation and earnest desire to rescue Orgon, convinced me that Valère does indeed need to join the family.

Cameron Cook’s Tartuffe is brilliant. Whether pleading piously guilty or staring right at the camera and waiting for Elmire’s response, he broke the system: it felt as if I were seeing his inner thoughts as he spoke and his hypocritical façade as he listened, as opposed to the inverse for each of the other characters. This kept me on edge and uncomfortable every time he appeared on screen, cementing him as the source of conflict in the story. Finally, Cook’s fear at the conclusion reveals Tartuffe’s true colors and rights the system; his comical attempts at slipping off-screen while Hayden Höglund (Officer) reports on the court’s findings add wonderfully to the satisfaction of the resolution. Sam Teuscher makes M Loyal genuinely earnest in his desire to help the family, best-selling the sentiment through his cheer “Splendid!”

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Since the show is limited to video-call shots of the actors, set dressing and audio are nearly nonexistent, characters cannot be seen from the chest down, and blocking (handled extremely well by Director David Sidwell, I might add) is either imagined or mimicked. The looks of the actors become especially important, and they are incredibly well-done. Each of the women’s hair, tops, and make-up beautifully help connect the actress to their character’s role in the house and role in the play. However, I was most notably impressed with Orgon’s blown-back hair and red velvet vest, both of which amplify gorgeously Rounds’ facial expressions and general portrayal of his character. Trevor Teuscher’s video editing is neat, hidden, and clear, smoothly transitioning characters on and off the screen and successfully maintaining the flow between the actors’ lines even when there is a cut.

Cache Theatre Company’s production of Molière’s Tartuffe explores the realm of theatre-via-video-call. It succeeds in many regards, helped by highly emotive actors, splendid delivery of the dialogue’s rhyme pattern, and neat editing/directing. Despite the new challenges of the medium, I am glad that the show did go on.

Cache Theatre Company presents Tartuffe, Book by Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur.
Produced for free as a video on the Cache Theatre Company’s Facebook Page.
Cache Theatre Company’s Facebook Page
Tartuffe Facebook Event

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