The play is more than 300 years old and, yet, it is incredibly timely.
There has seldom been a better moment in history for the American public to be reminded to beware false prophets, so the Stolen Shakespeare Guild is doing us all a favor with its sparkling staging of Moliere’s classic, biting comedy, Tartuffe. The production, which is the first of two plays comprising the Stolen Shakespeare Guild Classic Fest, opened the company’s 10th season at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center on Saturday .
The title character in this 1664 romp, played by Andrew Manning, is a bogus evangelical who has managed to endear himself to a wealthy family in order to shake them down for all their material goods. This Bible-thumping snake oil salesman especially holds the father, Orgon (Seth Johnston) in his thrall. But mom, Elmire (Julie Rhodes), sees through the faux preacher when he attempts to seduce her.
Similarly, the kids, Marianne (Samantha Snow) and Damis (Chris Rothbauer), as well as the sassy maid Dorine (Karen Matheny), never buy what Tartuffe is selling in the first place. Yet, dad refuses to abandon this admiration for Tartuffe, while ignoring a mountain of facts damning his permanent house guest. So how can the other family members get rid of this guy ?
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Thereby hangs the comedic thread in this manic farce, delivered in rhyming couplets. Director Jason Morgan and his players work awfully hard to keep the action moving and the laughs rolling. They largely succeed, although Morgan does go a bit too far at times by injecting movement that has no motivation, such as a cane fight between two female characters early in the show. But the acting is strong and, thanks to the superb costuming by Lauren Morgan, the show has a rich, period look.
The brightest sheen on this production, though, is provided by the company of Johnston and Johnson.
That is not a typo, and we are not talking about furniture polish. But rather we refer to Johnston and Michael Johnson, who plays Orgon’s brother-in-law, Cleante. Both are outstanding actors who have proven themselves on stages across the Metroplex in a stunning range of roles. It is exhilarating to see them work together, under Morgan’s skillful guidance. They land so lightly on the clever rhymes of Moliere’s text that the potentially stilted poetry comes out as flowing conversation.
Manning is also excellent in the title role. His part could be delivered in a highly mannered and overstated fashion, and be perfectly acceptable. The script allows for that. But Manning takes a more subtle approach to the character and it works beautifully.
The only problematic role is that of the maid, Dorine. Matheny is one of this company’s most consistently dependable performers, and it is always good to see her name on the playbill. But she is somewhat miscast here because she brings such a strong presence to the role, and comes off as too confident and comfortable in tweaking her bosses. Also, she is costumed almost as lavishly as the better-off characters, and has no props of her trade, such as a broom or a rag, to further convey her status and station (as well has giving her more tools for visual comedy).
But there is little else to fault in this briskly-paced classic from bygone times. See it to enjoy the comedy, costumes and acting in this show that rhymes.