Actors make the play in UIS Theatre’s Tartuffe
Tartuffe opened at UIS Studio Theatre this past weekend to both regular and ECCE Speaker Series audiences.
The production is a 17th century French play by Moliere with a modern translation by Ranjit Bolt. Tartuffe was the fall production for the UIS Theatre program, and was directed by Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, Associate Professor of Theatre at UIS.
The first thing about this production that sticks out to audiences is the set design, which was multi-layered and richly colored. It was much more elaborate than past Studio Theatre productions, and this may be in thanks to Dathan Powell, new Assistant Professor of Theatre and set designer for Tartuffe.
Act One is 85 minutes long, which you may notice as you try to sit still. The first part of this production moves fairly slowly. There are several very long monologues in place of the quicker moving dialogue and sometimes the characters are very static in their motions.
The play starts off with a discussion, which is more like a battle of wills, between Mme Pernelle, the mother of Orgon, and Dorine, a servant of the household. Mme Pernelle, played by Susan Jeffers, a community member, is a proud proper sort of women, and doesn’t approve of sinful activity she believes is going on in her son’s house. Pernelle is closely followed by Flipote, played by Amy Cantrall, a community member. While Cantrall didn’t have any lines that were heard, her mannerisms as she followed her mistress added an element of comedy to the overbearing character that was Pernelle.
Pernelle and Dorine, played by UIS Student Jennica Danner, argue about what should be allowed and why Tartuffe (our antagonist for this story) is or is not a good man. Dorine, while a servant, is very outspoken about the lives of those in the household. She has very strong opinions that Danner brought to life. While this scene is amusing in parts, it takes a good portion of time to understand what they are arguing about, and who is on what side of things.
Eventually we are introduced to the other members of the household, when we discover that Damis (Orgon’s son), played by UIS student Keegan Otwell, very much dislikes Tartuffe, and that he is trying to stand up for his sister Mariane, played by UIS student Diane Sahagun, who is soon to be married.
Damis is often hot-headed and takes to yelling to prove his points. Otwell brought a passion to the role that was felt in the intensity of his lines. Mariane is the exact opposite, being timid and striving to please her father. Sahagun often has a pitiful look about her, as her character, Mariane, seems unable to stand up for herself and gives in to what her father want for her even against her will.
While the first portion of Act One was a bit of a drag, mid-way through, the pace quickens and the whole production becomes more engaging.
At this point, the audience is introduced to the rest of main characters, as the father arrived, played by Christopher Beckstrom, another community member. The character of Orgon is not a sympathetic one, as he makes a fool of himself time and time again. He can’t seem to see through the ruse that is put on by Tartuffe, and blindly follows him when others encourage him to see reason.
Orgon’s has two voices of reason, in his wife and in-law, encouraging him to see what is in front of him. His wife and step mother to his children was played by Sarah Collins, an alumnus of UIS, and current staff member. Her portrayal of Elmire was one that required some grace and courage. This second wife of Orgon tries to help her step children, even at the expense of her own morality.
Cleante, in this production played by Deirdre Blankenberger, an alumnus of UIS and community member, took on the role of the level headed in-law of Orgon, who tries to keep the family from making rash decisions. Blankenberger was an image of calm in what was often a storm of confusion and rage throughout Tartuffe.
After a 10 minute intermission, the concluding 45 minutes of Tartuffe seemingly fly by as conflicts, both large and small are laid out and resolved as dictated by the story. The characters true morality is revealed and the story unfolds to its conclusion.
The title role, and one of the best performers, Tartuffe was played by Blake Detherage, a UIS student. He captivated the sleezy charm that the role required, while also adding some greed and malice for good measure. Detherage brought a great stage presence to his role, and had audience members laughing with out saying a single line.
UIS student Nathaniel Ed played Mariane’s betrothed Valere, while additional roles were played by community members Mary Myers and Tom Hutchinson (also an alumnus).
Overall, this play was decent. The meter and rhyme that the lines are spoken in take a bit of adjustment after immersion in a modern society, but the actors were quite good and created an engaging scene for audiences. Where the play itself lacked some interest and excitement, the stage presence of the actors made up the difference.
Tartuffe will have productions on Nov. 1, 2, and 3, all starting at 7:30 p.m. to round out the fall theatre season at UIS. The performance on Nov. 1 will also be an ECCE Speaker Series event, and the production will be followed by a discussion with the actors.