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French master’s slapstick farce is a pleasure to watch

Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” currently being performed at Lakeside Little Theatre, was first staged in 1664. While director Lynn Phelan has updated the play with the use of cell phones, Secret Service agents and references to current political events, the play’s theme required no changes at all.

pg21Hypocrites and grifters evidently plied their trade as effectively in 1664 as they do today.

Tartuffe (John Ward), our title character, has ingratiated himself into the home of wealthy Orgon (Mark Donaldson). While Orgon and his mother (Madame Pernelle, played by Jan Mayer) have both fallen under the sway of the pious and self-righteous Tartuffe, the other members of the household are skeptical and endeavor to force Orgon to see the truth about his houseguest.

The first scene of the play, which should orient us to the cast of characters, is a bit difficult to understand. Unfortunately, the discussion between Madame Pernelle and Orgon’s wife Elmire (Devin Van Domelin) is not projected as well as it might be, leaving us a bit lost at the play’s start. We do eventually catch up, however, and can then thoroughly enjoy the performance.

The play is a farce, full of well-choreographed slapstick comedy. The “seduction” scenes between Tartuffe and Elmire are particularly well-directed. They are a pleasure to watch. Elmire is played with a manic and tipsy energy, which is alternately entertaining and disconcerting. Tartuffe steals every scene where he appears. He exudes a smarminess that can be felt all the way to the back row.

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