Comedy fit for a king
Tartuffe packs a sting—and belly laughs—nearly 350 years after Molière wrote it, the Catholic Church banned it and the King of France sustained it. (He was flattered by the finale. Clever Molière!) It’s still a daring, exceedingly funny play. Indeed, Tartuffe’s, ahem, climax is one of the great groin teasers of all time. It’s a scene in which an honest wife nearly has sex with an outwardly pious (but scheming) guest she greatly dislikes, in order to prove to her foolish, gullible husband (who’s hiding and observing) that the guest is a fraud. The wife keeps waiting for her husband to blow the whistle—which takes longer than you’d think.
With Tartuffe, we all become voyeurs. The question with every staging is “How far will it go?” With director Gina Kaufmann at the helm, garment after garment comes off, leading to hilarious revelations courtesy of costumer Clare Henkel.
Kaufmann plays things fast, frank and funny. Watch the doors; enjoy the abundant innuendo. Kaufmann respects the text but adds updates, like the joint smoked by Cléante (tall Gillen Morrison). Kaufmann’s hip take on the text resembles what was done nearly 20 years ago at the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival and more recently at Cal Shakes in Orinda and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Looks like the trend has finally manifested locally.
The cast features good local hires. Ed Claudio (an old pro who hasn’t been in a Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) show for nearly 15 years) does hotheaded Orgon to a T. Kelley Weir, who likewise hasn’t been at STC for ages, is delicious as Orgon’s wife. Matt K. Miller (excellent in STC’s Arms and the Man five years ago) excels as a comic actor in the wickedly duplicitous title part. Lucinda Hitchcock Cone hectors everyone as the righteous grandma. Saffron Henke represents the ascendant working class as the intelligent, sexy maid Dorine.
Tartuffe is the funniest, smartest comedy to appear on STC’s main stage in years. French Baroque purists may dissent, but it will enlighten a broader audience. It’s the right move at the right time (albeit a little overdue) for this company. Hopefully, it’s a bellwether of good things to come.