Molière’s famous play “Tartuffe,” now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse exemplifies excessiveness, especially in the characters Orgon and the title character.
Orgon, who is blinded by his faith in Tartuffe, and Tartuffe, who is hypocrisy personified, are void of moderation and reason throughout most of the play. Molière saw through religious hypocrisy 350 years ago, and this topic, which keeps raising its ugly head, renders Molière’s play timeless.
It is ironic that Mark Lamos, who is currently the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, produced and directed “Tartuffe” years ago at the Hartford Stage Company. That production set the bar for this reviewer in regards to Molière’s popular play. It featured David Patrick Kelly in the title role as a slithering snake of a man.
It is to Marc Kudisch’s credit that he has reinvented Tartuffe as a more slovenly character. Kudisch is just as self-serving and hypocritical, but where Kelly was more refined, Kudisch’s mannerisms are intentionally sleazier. It works. Tartuffe is still a most undesirable character.
The plot revolves around Orgon’s fascination with the seemingly pious Tartuffe. Everyone except Orgon’s mother sees through the hypocrisy, but Orgon, the head of the household, is convinced that Tartuffe can save the souls of his family. He is so convinced that he breaks off the marriage of his daughter to Valere, played passionately by Matthew Amendt, and insists that she marry Tartuffe to make him officially part of the family. Orgon ends up disowning his children and gets himself into such a legal mess that only the magnificent Sun King, Louis IV, can make things right.
As in many early plays, the servants are much smarter than their masters, which offers a high comic element. That is certainly true of this play. The maid, Dorine, played with gusto by Jeanine Serralles, is continually testing and confusing her stubborn and faith-blinded employer. Thanks to the Sun-God, Louis IV, all’s well that ends well.
This cast works well together with some performances stronger than others. With plenty of Broadway credits, Nadia Bowers as Elmire seems to lack vitality here. Justin Adams as Damis captures the youthful fury of a son who is not taken seriously by his father, and Charise Castro Smith as Mariane, Orgon’s daughter, is dressed much too cute to be taken seriously by anyone. Patricia Conolly as Orgon’s mom delivers a powerful performance as the matriarch of the family.
However, it is Mark Nelson as Orgon who is the star of this production. His performance is so natural, that it’s uncanny.
Rounding off the cast are: Chrissy Albanese, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Jeremy Lawrence, and Wiliam Peden.
It is important to note that this production of Molière’s “Tartuffe” is based on the superb English translation of Richard Wilbur. The show is ably directed by David Kennedy with Wilson Chin’s scenic design, and Fitz Patton’s sound design. The production plays through Aug. 4. Box office: 203-227-4177.