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Theater Review

'Tartuffe' for our times? It works

February 27, 2009|David Ng

Like, oh mon Dieu! Moliere's 17th century comedy "Tartuffe" gets airlifted to a wealthy enclave of the San Fernando Valley in a new theatrical production that's, like, so totally amazing.

This postmodern retelling at the Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena is intended to be divisive to the max, but risk-seeking audiences will be glad they donned their designer thinking caps for this highly original deconstruction of the classic French play.

Set in a tacky suburban mansion, "Tartuffe" follows the plight of Orgon (Tim Cummings), a middle-aged busi- nessman who rules over his spoiled extended family, a rancorous clan of self-promoters who harbor a collective grudge against the slimy patriarch. His dowager mother (Judith Scarpone) browbeats him with complaints while his goth son (Blake Silver) defaces the property with spray paint. Orgon's only devotee is his aerosol-huffing daughter, Mariane (Megan Heyn), whom he hopes to marry off to the titular house guest (Antonio Anagaran), a loaded bachelor of mystery.

The production, which uses a translation by Donald M. Frame, remains largely faithful to the plot and language of Moliere's play, with the characters conversing in rhyming couplets. But director Josh Chambers uses everything in his stylistic arsenal to destabilize the story, inserting robotic choreography, video projections and (in one scene) luxury duffel bags that literally fall from the sky.

And it gets only weirder: Tartuffe makes his belated entrance sheathed from head to toe in a silvery lame bodysuit, his lines voiced entirely by Orgon. The ghostly houseguest -- who may or may not represent the return of the repressed -- proceeds to seduce the family matriarch (Teressa Byrne) and ultimately wrests control of the mansion, threatening to throw the entire family out on the street.

The production's Brechtian tropes can sometimes feel random and showy, like a shopping spree through the mall of postmodernism. But that could very well be the point, given the Valley setting and emphasis on conspicuous consumption. These materialistic characters are undone by their own greed, and the director has created a hyper-artificial setting in which we can contemplate their shallowness.

This "Tartuffe" is an especially challenging piece of theater, demanding that we confront a classic play on completely new terms. Unlike most other high-concept theater experiments that tend to be bloodless to a fault, this production is both funny and sexy, reveling in visual non sequiturs, dumb gags and a general state of arousal. It's a play that both airheads and literary eggheads can enjoy.

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'Tartuffe'

Where: The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions. Ends March 22.

Price: $27 to $32

Contact: (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.com

Running time: 2 hours,

20 minutes

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