The Huntington Theatre Brings an Imposter to Boston

The Huntington Theatre is bringing a beloved con artist to Boston with Molière’s classic play, Tartuffe.  The comedy, which translates to ‘imposter’ in English, was written in the mid-seventeenth century as a satire on the hypocrisy of duplicitous zealots posing as spiritual advisors who notoriously propagated false ideals of piety to wealthier households.  Molière, no stranger to controversy, angered King Louis XIV with Tartuffe, and soon thereafter the comedy was banned in Paris.

However, the ban on Tartuffe did not last long, as the play has become an iconic fixture in French literature.  Several translations exist. Director, Peter DuBois, takes on Ranjit Bolt’s translation of the comedy.  Though Bolt’s translation has been criticized for simplifying Molière, it retains and emphasizes the gusto, wit, and ridicule that trademark the French playwright’s notoriously provocative style.

The comedy follows a gullible gentleman, Orgon (played by Frank Wood) as the con artist, Tartuffe (Brett Gelman), weasels his way onto Orgon’s home and fortune.  While Orgon is naïve to Tartuffe’s phony virtue, Orgon’s family immediately recognizes that their new house guest is a conniving fraud.  The household ultimately panics when Tartuffe turns Orgon against his son, Damis (Matthew Bretschneider) and convinces Orgon that he should marry Mariane (Sarah Oakes Muirheard)- Orgon’s daughter and heiress to the family fortune.  Mariane is devastated by this news, already engaged and in love with the dashing Valère (Gabriel Brown).  Desperate to evict Tartuffe and prevent him from further ruining their lives, Orgon’s second wife, Elmire (Melissa Miller), concocts a risqué plot to prove to her husband that his newfound sanctimonious buddy is nothing more than a scheming imposter.

Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe, directed by Peter DuBois, playing November 10 – December 10, 2017, Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe, directed by Peter DuBois, playing November 10 – December 10, 2017, Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

As a play, Tartuffe is successful because the comedic mockery of higher-power-hypocrisy transcends time.  Con artists are not exclusive to a specific era.  Given the current political climate in America, DuBois’ adaptation is timely, relevant, and undoubtedly a middle finger to the current administration. DuBois sets Tartuffe in modern times, making references to cell phones, selfies, and selfie sticks.  While the costumes subtly nod to the playwright’s original time period, the characters are primarily donned in cocktail dresses, crisp suits, and combat boots. They are surrounded by the luxuries and conveniences of the modern day.  Given the dialogue, setting Tartuffe in a contemporary time may seem awkward, but it’s a successful device in applying historical literature to current events.

Huntington Theatre Company Tartuffe
The company of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe, directed by Peter DuBois, playing November 10 – December 10, 2017, Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

I loved it.  I laughed a lot. Whether it be Frank Wood’s dimwitted portrayal of Orgon or Brett Gelner’s sleazy, retch-inducing, Tartuffe- every cast member adds a layer of vibrancy to this production.  Even Flipote (Katie Elinoff), the frazzled maid to Madame Pernelle (Paula Plum), adds a nuance of hilarity silently hovering alone in the corner during the first act. Having read Tartuffe for my high school French literature class, I never saw it performed. I wondered if I’d be bored and underwhelmed, but that was definitely not the case.  Peter DuBois and the Huntington Theatre Company have created a production so brilliant and witty that Molière himself would approve.

Brett Gelman Tartuffe Huntington Theatre Boston Company
Brett Gelman in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe, directed by Peter DuBois, playing November 10 – December 10, 2017, Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Go see it. Don’t drag your feet because the show only runs until December 10th!

À la prochaine!

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