‘Tartuffe’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Amanda Gunther


Bodies are humorous! A fact well proven by Annapolis Shakespeare Company in their highly physical comedy being presented this summer. Playing on Tuesdays throughout July and August the company brings a scintillating and scandalous comedy of manners to one of the more historic venues in Annapolis. Calling it “Comedy in the Courtyard” ASC is proud to present Moliere’s Tartuffe, an adaptation by Timothy Mooney; a rousing good romp through the Reynold’s Tavern Courtyard. With just six actors playing 11 different roles the show is a spicy sensation that keeps the audience laughing as they follow along with the melodramatic folly, the closest thing to a wicked soap opera one can find for the Enlightenment Era.

 Marianne (Alyssa Bouma) and Orgon (Alex Foley). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Marianne (Alyssa Bouma) and Orgon (Alex Foley). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

The evening starts with a lovely ambiance out in the courtyard, evening dining service with nightly specials as well as beverages, dessert and full bar (all available for an additional but reasonable cost). The secluded ivy and greenery covered walls closes in the courtyard making the play space perfectly intimate for involving the audience. The food is exquisite, the drinks perfect for the occasion and the wait staff is cheery, all gearing up for the big moment that the show starts; right in the thriving center of the tables. It’s a brilliant way to bring Moliere’s classic even closer to the those watching.

Company Artistic Director Sally Boyett-D’Angelo serves as the production’s Director, focusing heavily on physical comedy to really spark and charge the play. This upholds a swift pacing and really moves the production forward, where other productions not so physically motivated would drag and drift along through the thick plot. Using Mooney’s adaptation cuts the treacle and presents the audience with the rich meaty bits, allowing Boyett-D’Angelo and her incredible cast to focus on driving the story and all its humors home to the audience. The physical comedy itself is too rich to be called slapstick; Boyett-D’Angelo going so far as to invent a new type of modern presentation that can only be described as ‘body humors.’ The actors rely a great deal on their physical interactions with one another to really carry off the funnier moments of the piece; gesturing, flinging each other about and always remaining in close proximity to one another.

Boyett-D’Angelo chose a colonial motif, arranging costumes suitable for that era for each of her actors. Costumes become a key element to the performance as it is often just a jacket or an apron (combined with a quick switch in accent) that allows the audience to distinguish one character from the next. But her work with the actors ensures flawless delivery of these continually switching accents and personas; each actor who is playing more than one character having a clearly distinctive separation between their varying presences on the stage. The organic chemistry that flows through these six performers is amazing; allowing them to craft perfection to the classic, making it easily accessible to those with no prior knowledge of Moliere or his story.

The thing that the ensemble of performers does best, outside of their zany physical interactions, is handle the intricate rhyming meter of the verse. Jumping in right on top of each other to finish sentences that complete rhymes, these six never miss a bit, and yet pause when appropriate to add those extra seconds of comedy where needed. They speak with a fluid understanding of the text, delivering their words with vehement emotions so that everyone knows exactly where their character stands on the situation. The mastery that these actors present on delivering their text with real emotions and feeling behind them is beyond impressive.

Orgon (Alex Foley) and Marianne (Alyssa Bouma) who is daughter to Orgon are where the problem starts. Foley and Bouma are the only two performers that do not double or triple their roles, but their presence being in nearly every scene makes up for that. Bouma, as the pouty and insufferably whiny young daughter gives an uproarious rendition of a temper tantrum when being delivered the news of having to marry a disgusting hypocrite. Her entire body expresses how miserable she is, fraught with displeasure over the prospect of losing her true love Valere (Michael Ryan Neely). But Bouma isn’t all tears and tragedy. When facing off in a lover’s quarrel again Neely she becomes quite furious; the pair executing a perfect spat of ill-fired insults at one another in attempts to be cross with one another. This leads to a great deal of physical shenanigans on Neely’s part, but as the quarrel dissolves it is clear the two are dreadfully smitten with one another.

Neely resurfaces later in the production as the arrogant French bailiff, Loyal, with a haughty, albeit stereotypical, French accent. His accent is the perfect addition to the pompous windbag character. And just for fun, his officer character gets to kick in a little cockney sound at the end, making Neely the winner of best-accents all round.

Foley, presiding over his daughter (and everyone else’s) misfortune is the most physically involved performer in the production. His mincing flighty walk, which turns into a comic run akin to a video tape stuck on fast-forward, is simply riotous. And his facial expressions will keep you laughing so hard you’ll cry. When laying into Damis with a blazing fury it’s like watching the actor belch fire and brimstone, his whole body shooting upright to make him a good foot taller than he actually is. Foley’s ‘fight choreography,’ which is really more of a struggle while attempting to fight someone, is so tightly performed that it looks wildly authentic. His overall obliviousness and general flighty presence makes for an excellent characterization of the patriarch in this comedy. This is an extremely talented performance from this young actor that sends the show well on its way to epic comic proportions.

Lauren Turchin and Grayson Owen become masters of the quick-change. Owen plays both the sniveling outraged Damis, son of Orgon, as well as the snotty and cavalier Cleante, Orgon’s brother-in-law. Having just a jacket and a switch in accents to mark his character differences, Owen does an impeccable job of keeping them separate. With a whiny sound for his Damis and a drunken miserable voice in a lower range coming into play for his Cleante, he is a delight to watch and listen to. Owen wins the title of ‘best-quick change’ flipping in and out of a scene where both of his characters are meant to be present, and the sheer shenanigans of having to run to a corner and switch coats to fly back into the scene leaves the audience in stitches as the actors lets the fourth wall dissolve and acknowledges with huffs and puffs how strenuous this task can be.

As for Turchin, playing the lady of the house Elmire and the sassy maid Dorine, she does an equally fantastic job switching up her characters, using only an apron, bonnet, and a thick crass cockney accent. She delivers the cock…ney sound as Dorine along with every other sexual innuendo the play has to over, really driving home the overt and no longer subtle sexual overtones of the production. Turchin is wildly amusing as the maid and equally as exciting as Elmire, desperate to fend of Tartuffe’s advances, leading to sheer comic brilliance as she’s flung about, chased about, and overall engaged in every physical way possible.

As for the man himself, Tartuffe (Stephen Horst), there is no stopping his insane sexual appetite, regardless of how he tries to hide it. Horst first appears to us as the ancient mother of Orgon, Madame Pernelle; a rousing good performance with pinched falsetto voice and wild facial expressions. Horst masters walking like an aged lady in the stiff dress and corset, sticking his nose in places where it shouldn’t be. But as the title character Horst excels with his physicality; prostrating his body every chance he can. Again, watch his facial expressions for like everyone else in the cast they truly belay double and triple meanings to the text as he speaks. The words best used to describe his scenes with Turchin are grotesquely amorous, leaving the audience in a state of laughter so severe that it brings thunderous applause by the production’s end.

Tartuffe (Stephen Horst) and Elmire (Laura Turchin). Photo courtesy of  Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Tartuffe (Stephen Horst) and Elmire (Laura Turchin). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

A finer evening in outdoor theatre you will not find this summer, at least for certain not one that will make you laugh so hard and be so physically engaging as Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Tartuffe. Be sure to get your tickets for this limited run before Tartuffe and friends get evicted and forced to move on.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with 3 brief pauses.

Tartuffe plays Tuesday evenings through August 13, 2013 (with no performance July 30th) in The Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern – 7 Church Circle at the top of Historic Annapolis, MD. For ticket reservations call (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.

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