Review: ‘Tartuffe’ by Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Tartuffe is a delightful rendition of Molière’s classic 1664 French comedy. Directed by Sally Boyett and performed in the outdoor courtyard of Reynolds Tavern, it is the perfect show for a lovely summer evening.

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Tartuffe.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Dexter Hamlett plays Tartuffe with great pompousness. He speaks loudly and passionately of his religious devotion, carrying a small crucifix, while proving to be interested in more (ahem) physical matters. Alone with his friend Orgon’s wife Elmire (Vivian Allvin), he kisses her arm, and fondles her leg, claiming to be “admiring the fabric” of her dress. He leans into her, nearly pulling her onto her back. Caught in the act, he drops to his knees, abusing himself as the worst sinner in the world. He becomes commanding when he thinks he has control of the family, issuing orders from the center of the stage as the family circles around him weeping. Defeated, he shrinks in dejection to the side.

Vivian Allvin plays Elmire with cleverness. Seeking to expose Tartuffe, she responds flirtatiously to his advances, leaping up just in time. She laughs nervously as he proceeds to woo her, fluttering her fan. As the maid Dorine, Allvin is a hoot, talking back to her masters and delighting in the chaos around her. She continually interrupts Orgon (John Pruessner) as he convinces his daughter Marianne (Katherine Burns) to marry Tartuffe. She has a wonderful comic moment after Pruessner threatens to strike her if she speaks one more word, exclaiming and then turning silent as he glares at her.

John Pruessner plays Orgon with devotion for Tartuffe. Convinced of his friend’s sincerity, he chases his son Damis (John Posner) around the stage for suggesting otherwise. When Hamlett threatens to leave to spare his family any more drama, Pruessner commands him to stay. He throws himself into a fury at Allvin’s interruptions, and his family’s protests Tartuffe. Finally seeing the truth, he circles the stage against his mother Madame Pernelle (Roslyn Ward), joining his family. He weeps when Hamlett has the upper hand.

John Posner plays Orgon’s brother Cleante with wittiness. Opposed to violence but determined to bring down Tartuffe, he joins in the schemes to expose him. As Orgon’s son Damis he is full of rage, wanting to attack Tartuffe. Hiding in a “closet” (the bathroom) during Tartuffe’s seduction, he leaps out, ready to strike. He races around the stage as Pruessner chases him, finally running off. Watching him switch between the witty Cleante and the violent Damis is extremely funny.

Katherine Burns plays Orgon’s daughter Marianne with a vulnerability that hides a great strength. Wanting to be loyal to her father’s wishes, she is horrified at his command to marry Tartuffe, throwing herself on her knees to beg him not to make her. There is a funny moment when Pruessner asks her what she thinks of Tartuffe, and she winces, afraid to say what she really thinks. She stands up to her beloved Valere (Jesse Milliner) when he suggests that she marry Tartuffe, snapping at him. She argues with Dorine when she teases her about marrying Tartuffe.

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Tartuffe.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Jesse Milliner gives great comic timing to Valere. Annoyed with Marianne, he thinks her marrying Tartuffe is a brilliant idea. He makes ready to walk out, each time giving her a chance to call him back. After their reconciliation, he embraces her, needing Allvin to throw him out for their plan to work. He gives fierceness to the messenger Loyal, seizing Tartuffe by the arm as he delivers his missive.

Roslyn Ward gives authority to Orgon’s mother Madame Pernelle. She dominates the stage at the start, defending Tartuffe and insulting her family. She stalks Orgon around the stage as he tries to convince her of his wickedness, completely disbelieving. Finally understanding what Tartuffe has done, she sighs in anguish, gripping her cane.

The costume design by Sally Boyett helps set the characters in the era and makes them distinguishable, important with several actors playing multiple roles. Tartuffe wears a black jacket, red pants, and a black wig. Elmire has on a long blue and white floral dress, while Dorine wears an apron and white bonnet, carrying a duster. Cleante has a red jacket, white pants, and a white wig, and Damis has a white jacket. Orgon wears a green and white jacket, white wig, and a white ruffled collar. Madame Pernelle has a big white wig, a blue and black hoop dress, and carries a cane, while Marianne wears a red dress. Valere wears a gray jacket and a black wig. Sally Boyett also does the sound design, playing classical harpsichord music at the show’s start and end, as well as in between scenes.

Sally Boyett’s direction allows the actors to easily navigate each other and the unusual stage. They make excellent use of the courtyard, with some circling around its edges while watching the others in the center. They naturally speak the rhymed couplets of the English translation and hit all the comic moments. Everything comes together for a delightful evening of classical comedy under the stars. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Tartuffe plays Tuesday nights through September 10, 2019, at the outdoor courtyard of Reynolds Tavern – 7 Church Circle in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase them online.