Akron Beacon Journal Review is in…..and “Tartuffe” is a HIT!

Review: Strong cast carries witty ‘Tartuffe’ at Western Reserve Playhouse

Photo Credit: Chris Douglas

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal/Ohio.com

Tartuffe is the ultimate master manipulator. And in the hands of Brian Pedaci, he also comes across as dangerously charismatic in Moliere’s classic comedy “Tartuffe” at Western Reserve Playhouse.

This 1664 French play, done in verse, is performed in a highly accessible English translation by Richard Wilbur. And the strong cast at Western Reserve Playhouse makes all of Moliere’s witty rhymes crystal-clear in terms of understanding.

This “Dr. Seuss for adults,” as artistic director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski refers to the play, is directed by August Scarpelli. The lively combination of insulting rhyming couplets and zany physical humor in this production brought plenty of laughs on opening night Friday, including from my 11-year-old son.

The show features a gracious-looking set by Daniel Hunsicker depicting the wealthy Orgon’s home and elegant costumes and wigs by Harry James. All of the characters in this comedy wear heavily rouged cheeks except for Tartuffe, the villain, who also is the only bald character in this show where the other older males wear elaborate white wigs.

Pedaci doesn’t play Tartuffe as an over-the-top villain or do an oily, desperate characterization like others I’ve seen in the past. He doesn’t play the role for laughs. Instead, he presents a suave man who dominates the stage and seems to be enjoying bamboozling the master of the house, Orgon. For that reason, one can see why people could at first be drawn to Tartuffe.

Much of the humor comes from how ridiculously blind Jim Fippin’s Orgon is in his admiration for this houseguest. But everyone in this story soon sees clearly what a con man he really is, except for the easily duped Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle (Harriet DeVeto).

Orgon thinks he owes everything to Tartuffe but it’s the other way around: The previously homeless Tartuffe is living the high life eating well at Orgon’s home, where he makes a big display of his supposed piety while wearing a black robe that looks like a cleric’s.

Fippin’s comical Orgon is so completely “hoodwinked by this rascal’s art,” he offers his new “spiritual adviser” his daughter in marriage and practically hands him his wife on a platter, without realizing it.

The danger here serves as a warning in any time period: Orgon won’t think for himself or question what is going on around him. Moliere’s work stirred controversy when it premiered in 1664 and was censored by King Louis XIV.

Kelsey Tomlinson is wonderfully saucy as the mouthy maid Dorine, who inserts herself into the Orgon household’s controversy and schemes to expose Tartuffe for the hypocrite he is. She uses one of the best words in the play when she tells another character, “You deserve to be Tartuffified,” or duped.

This is the largest and funniest role I’ve ever seen Tomlinson play, and she performs it with zest. Dorine, one of the smartest characters in “Tartuffe,” sets about a scheme to expose this fraud. One naughty moment in a seduction scene may go over younger viewers’ heads but is appropriate for older audiences.

Friday night’s audience laughed hard at young lovers Mariane (Kayla Lehman) and Valere (Zach Manthey), who engage in a very stubborn, tantrum-like fight. Manthey’s physical humor is priceless, whether he’s sliding down a wall crying or literally running into walls as his riled-up character throws a fit.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.

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