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'Tartuffe' stays fresh

A Noise Within taps into the lasting resonance of Molière.

March 22, 2014|By Lynne Heffley
  • Tartuffe (Freddy Douglas) romances Elmire (Carolyn Ratteray) in Tartuffe, A Noise Within production.
Tartuffe (Freddy Douglas) romances Elmire (Carolyn… (Courtesy of Craig…)

It’s been nearly two decades since theater company A Noise Within, now in Pasadena, last revisited Molière’s satiric masterwork, “Tartuffe.” Its new production of the 17th century classic, running in repertory through May 24, resumes performances on Sunday, and seeing the company’s deft frolic through this all too timely skewering of religious hypocrisy, the question is — what took them so long?

The play opens with a ball given by Elmire (Carolyn Ratteray), the attractive wife of Orgon, the master of the house. The unrestrained revelry disgusts the family matriarch, Madame Pernelle (Jane Macfie), who leaves in high dudgeon (Macfie does delightful high dudgeon) after counseling the family to mirror the pious rectitude of the absent Tartuffe, lately come to stay at the invitation of his new benefactor and convert, Orgon (Geoff Elliott in Dame Edna-ish glasses, expertly mining the role’s humorous nuances).

The family sees Tartuffe for the greedy, manipulative fraud that he is and all are alarmed at his influence over increasingly sanctimonious Orgon, who tells his brother-in-law Cléante (stalwart Stephen Rockwell), in essence, that the family can go jump. Only Tartuffe, the path to eternal salvation, is worthy.


In directing Richard Wilbur’s definitive verse translation of the classic, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott doesn’t dig deep, but her sure touch with controlled, boisterous buffoonery doesn’t eclipse contemplation of the insidious cost of religious charlatanism.

Orgon orders daughter Mariane to break her engagement to her true love Valère and marry Tartuffe, then doubles down, disinheriting hapless son Damis (Mark Jacobson) for reporting Tartuffe’s attempt to seduce Elmire.

Only when Elmire convinces him to hide and witness Tartuffe in lecherous action — a riotous pas de deux between Ratteray and Douglas — does Orgon, after signing over to Tartuffe all of his worldly goods, realize that he has been duped. Tartuffe, however, unrepentant, orders the family to vacate the premises. It takes royal intervention to set things right, a zany capper to the show that involves a hilarious turn by William Dennis Hunt, a glittering disco ball and scantily clad chorus girls.

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