I doubt Molière could have predicted that modern adaptations of his magnum opus would include a social media influencer, but that’s exactly what University of Oregon Theatre is trying to do with their current production of Tartuffe, at least in theory.
Ever resisting the digital realm in my late 30s, I hoped not have to Google “VSCO girl” again. Thankfully, any allusions to Instagram are hardly noticeable despite stated directorial motives, making UO’s Tartuffe feel more innately timeless than digitally specific.
A massive staircase lined with family photos is the focal point of an impressive set in the Robinson Theatre. Fixed walls of teal and fleur-de-lis gold are the bones of a living, breathing design. Simple foyer pieces, paired with a navy blue cardigan, khakis and a floral jumper, make the whole setting feel more 2019 Hamptons than 17th-century Parisian aristocracy (scenic design by Adam Whittredge).
Taken from a contemporary, slightly less rhymey adaptation by Constance Congdon and directed by Tricia Rodley, Tartuffe is the story of a deeply dysfunctional family and their sleazy houseguest. We’ve all been on either end of that situation, right?
Orgon (Dashaun Valentino-Vegas) is the familial sacrificing head of the household who is looking for spiritual salvation from a swindling holy man named Tartuffe (Ben Barrera).
A little slow and mechanical at first, this production picks up steam with absurd plot devices, heavily weighted in physical comedy. The characters fly into and out of doorways, fling themselves over and under tables, ascend and descend the great staircase in gasps and tears.
Barrera is especially ridiculous as the less-than-overtly-sinister, blubbering and crawling spiritual sage, making the audience howl — and Valentino-Vegas crack at least once.
For as good as Barrera and Valentino-Vegas are, it’s the women who rule this wholly male dominated shit show. Gabby Socolofsky is sexy and frantically shrewd as the waspy Elmire. Savvy Rogan is fitting as the sassy, ever-meddling servant Dorine and Alexa Krauss is boldly naïve as Orgon’s daughter Mariane. Krauss is perhaps best when paired with Valère (Andrew Tesoriero), the conversely warring and kissing lovers of a painfully familiar and dumbstruck youth.
Exceptionally entertaining, Tartuffe lacks substantially heavy hitting moments. The proposed social media influencer angle is absent from the stage aside from a barely visible, bookended projection of a scrolling news feed. Any voices of reason are drowned out in favor of gratuitous humor, and I for one am not complaining.
Complete with its traditional deus-ex-machina ending, a bizarre and hasty conga line after a slo-mo fight, Tartuffe still feels like a jab at regular old Christian piety, the kind that got Molière’s play banned by the court of King Louis XIV when it was first produced in 1664. And let’s face it, religious hypocrisy never goes out of style.
Expect to laugh your way through an easily discernable translation of Tartuffe, one that is complete with marathon comedy, gorgeous scenery and, thankfully, no actual dialectical references to Twitter. ν
Tartuffe runs through Nov. 23 at the University of Oregon’s Robinson Theatre; info and tickets at tickets.uoregon.edu/ut.