Sunday, 17 October 2010

THEATRE REVIEW: Underwhelming ‘Tarfuffe’ lacks subtlety, drowns in idiocy

MUDDLING MOLIERE: The University Players in Tartuffe at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona.

Where is Brian Heap when you need him?

Moliere’s gem of a play, Tartuffe, was expected to be delight to behold in the hands of the usually capable University Players, but overreach and severe technical flaws seems to have stymied their new revival of the production from fully excelling. The cast and crew set lofty aims, but they evidently lack the proper arsenal to convincingly and authentically pull off Moliere. The result is a surprisingly sloppy and overlong effort weighed down by one-note lighting, poorly tailored costumes and a clunky, overstuffed adaptation of the script.

When you consider the work of great French dramatists like Moliere, you think of nimble repartee, precise, quick dialogue and, in the case of Tartuffe, buoyant, urgent comedy. With this new adaptation from the Players, not so. Under the watch of guest director Paul Issa, the play moves along at a turtle’s pace, through five acts – scene after scene – all of which elicit infrequent laughs and more grimaces and head scratches.

Set in a village somewhere in Paris circa the 1660s, Tartuffe explores honour, love, deception and human relationships in relating the story of the conniving title character (Alwyn Scott), who (despised as he is by nearly everyone) worms his way into the home of the gullible Orgon (Issa), a wealthy merchant who turns to Tartuffe for “spiritual advice.” But Tartuffe, an excellent manipulator, is all set to rock their world.

It is good that in this overly ambitious mounting of the play, Scott and Issa, playing the leads have some chemistry, resembling for most of the play offbeat, longtime pals who like to jaw for hours over beer. As a light-tongued maid, Teisha Duncan adds a fiery jolt of energy to the largely humdrum affair, standing out in a cast of actors (playing members of Orgon’s household), who desperately crave recognition.

But these few bright spots are not enough to rescue the play, which drags on for eternity, heading to a conclusion that feels rushed and tacked on. And the usually excellent Munair Zacca embarrassingly flubbing his lines in a crucial scene was the final nail that sealed the coffin.

Overall, the University Players’ handling of Tartuffe could have done with some far better executed scenes, trims of messy, long-winded passages and a technical proficiency to enhance the spirit of the play. In short, Tartuffe essentially lacks the zest which made this year’s Appropriate Behaviour such a winning exercise. That would have at least made the production’s sometimes strained unfolding not just appealing but bearable. Indeed, where is Heap when he’s needed? Tyrone’s Verdict: C-

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