Sticky-looking unkempt hair, dirty and unshaven face, and practically drooling as he licks his greasy fingers, slovenly is the best way to describe Robin Frome’s physical portrayal of Moliere’s most famous character, Tartuffe. So important is this character that his name is the title of the play, Tartuffe, which is now running at the Sherman Playhouse.
There have been times when the title has been The Hypocrite, which this character exemplifies. Frome not only slips into the scaly skin of this parasitic man, but he has latched onto Tartuffe’s depraved mindset for the run of the performance. There are no two ways about it. Robin Frome is nothing short of triumphant in his brilliant characterization.
Director Paul J. Tines’ stunningly clever opening of this neo-classic farce will have playgoers marveling. Moliere set up the play with the characters talking about Tartuffe in such dramatic ways that the audience is anxious to meet this character. However, Tines dispenses with the suspense and before the play opens presents Tartuffe center stage eating a delicacy with such wanton gluttony and admiring himself in mirror after mirror that the audience immediately recognizes this man as degenerate and loathsome. Never before, in all the productions of this often-produced play, has this reviewer seen such a powerful opening scene. Tines and Frome have created an indelible moment here.
Jean Baptiste Poquelin, aka Moliere, who acted, directed, managed theaters and wrote plays in the 17th Century knew a thing or two about hypocrisy and human nature. Tartuffe is a greedy, licentious fraud parading around as a holy man. Moliere’s France had been struggling with “spiritual correctness” much as our contemporary society tries to deal with “political correctness.” There was plenty of controversy surrounding this play. The Catholic Church banned the play because it felt it was an attack against the church leaders and the very basis of the religion.
The plot revolves around Orgon, a wealthy, middle-aged man who has become a bigot and a prude. Tartuffe’s phony display of sanctity allows the swindler to gain complete power over Orgon, his fortune, and even offers his daughter in marriage to his supposed “spiritual” master. Bruce Tredwell’s interpretation of Orgon is like quicksilver. It’s so fast and fresh that he’s hard to nail down and therefore even though the character behaves outrageously, he becomes believable. So too, perky Lauren Hoag as Dorine, a lady’s maid to Orgon’s sweet daughter Mariane, is so quick, agile, and delightful that she controls the stage whenever she steps upon it.
The production features a talented cast of area actors: Patrick Kelly (Ridgefield), David Bailey (Salisbury), John Fabiani (Watertown), Lauren Hoag (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), Kit Colbourn (Fishkill, N.Y.), Mary-Genevieve Moisan, Shea Coughlin (Sherman), Bruce Tredwell (Brewster, N.Y.), Katherine and David Almquist and Abe, the classy lapdog, (Sharon), Robin Frome and Gabriel Fowler (both New Milford).
All of the actors do a fine job here and anyone who enjoys theater needs to see this production. Don’t think of it as an old, historic show. This is a hilarious farce that punctuates summer entertainment at its best. The production itself is stunning. Multiple crystal chandeliers hang from the rafters, a back-lit wall featuring ornate frames and mirrors reflects the atmosphere of the action, moving from sulking blue to jealousy green and ultimately turning passionate pink. Kudos again to director and set designer Paul J. Tines.
Al Chiappetta’s lighting design is superb as is David White’s sound design. Lisa Bonelli’s period costumes are of award-winning caliber as are Joseph Russo’s wigs. Don’t miss this one. It’s this summer’s smash hit. It plays through July. Box office: 860-354-3622.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]