Bruce Turk and Melanie-Lora (on-table) and Bo Foxworth. Photo: Aaron-Rumley.


North Coast Repertory Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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A 360-year-old satirical comedy still delivers razor-sharp wit in the 21st century in a captivating production of “Tartuffe” at the North Coast Repertory Theatre.

Masquerading as a pious cleric, con artist extraordinaire Tartuffe has firmly embedded himself in the household of the wealthy and gullible Orgon and his equally unsuspecting mother who lavish favors and assets upon a man whose endgame is to bamboozle his victim out of his estate, fortune and daughter (who is already promised to another). The rest of the household is not fooled: Spouse, children, siblings, even the servants know a crook when they see one and are desperate to show Tartuffe the door. But, to the family’s collective frustration and escalating voices, no matter how much damning evidence of deceit and malfeasance is put before him, Orgon vigorously defends the man he considers his heaven-sent guide. Hmm, not unlike certain contemporary discourse.

This production fires on all cylinders thanks to a whip-smart cast and inspired direction by Richard Baird. Actor Bo Foxworth as Orgon gives new meaning to “show, don’t tell” by repeatedly turning beet red when arguing with one and all. Melanie Lora who plays Orgon’s wife, Elmire, is the linchpin in a pivotal scene to expose the licentious Tartuffe (literally and strategically). Katie Karel as parlor maid Dorine is a marvel as she delivers her lines of rhyming couplets with the inflections and body language of a modern-day, take-no-prisoners woman.

The pièce de resistance is Bruce Turk as Tartuffe. Despite his initial meek demeanor and barefoot, sackcloth appearance, his ingratiating words carry hints of a Damon Runyon character trying to pull a fast one. Greed that extends beyond the financial and sexual is on glorious display as gluttonous Tartuffe tears apart and devours an entire roasted fowl while dining alone in his private chambers. You’ll never look at a Costco rotisserie chicken in the same way.

Shanté DeLoach plays with heartbreaking tenderness Orgon’s duty-torn daughter Mariane who despairs that her father’s clouded judgment will jeopardize her and her beloved Valere (Jared Van Heel) of their chance at wedded happiness. Kandis Chappell is Orgon’s imperious mother, Mme. Pernelle who commands the room each time she enters.

The set design by Marty Burnett is Louis XIV all the way with brocade wall coverings and inlaid parquet flooring. There’s a wall portrait of the Sun King astride a noble steed, baroque furniture and a pair of gold-gilded goddess statues flanking the room, all courtesy of prop co-designers Matt FitzGerald and Tessia Iadiciccio. Opulent costumes by designer Elisa Benzoni required unimaginable yards of velvet, brocade and satin accented by lace, buttons, intricate embroidery, buckle shoes and nose-tickling ostrich plumes. Cascades of voluminous ring curls are the significant contribution of hair and wig designer Peter Herman. Harpsichord arrangements by sound designer Ian Scot. Lighting design by Matt Novotny.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, gave us “Tartuffe” in 1664. The late poet Richard Wilbur gave the play its remarkable translation in 1964. The universal themes of the story continue to resonate in our times.

by Lynne Friedmann

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