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Tartuffe -02/28/1999

By Moliere. Translated by Christopher Hampton. Cast: Stacey Alexandra Zielke, Sean Aquino, Tinashe Kajese, Cara Mantella, Kristen M. Braitkrus, Brian LaDuca, Linnea M. George, Dennis Schnell, Tom Reed, Dan Wolfe, Kevin Asselin, Jeremy W. Harrison, Nicholas Russo. Director: Randi Jennifer Collins Hard. Scenic Designer: Lee M. Boyer. Costume Designer: Jessica Haubrich. Lighting Designer: Michael W. Williams. Sound Designer: Jon Schoenoff. Properties Designer: Julie Rundell. Wig and Makeup Designer: Lisa Lillig. Stage Manager and Dramaturg: L. Grace Godwin.

University of Illinois Department of Theater.

Through March 7. Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana. Box office: 333-6280


If you thought the latter part of the 20th century was the high-water mark for religious chicanery, what with televangelist scandals right and left, you need look no farther than Moliere’s “Tartuffe” to see that scam artists in the name of God have been around forever.

“Tartuffe” was written in about 1664, but its scathing portrait of men of the church caused such an uproar it took several years to finally get a forum.

And this saucy comedy about a man pretending to be a pious counselor, all the whole hiding greed and lechery under his dark robes, still seems current, perhaps even controversial.

The University of Illinois Department of Theater has chosen to use British playwright Christopher Hampton’s translation of this classic play for its sumptuous Colwell Playhouse production. Hampton is best known for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” another translation from the
French, but one that succeeds far better than his “Tartuffe” in terms of tension and structure.

This “Tartuffe” sounds curiously modern, especially when compared to the technical trappings on stage -- a truly stunning drawing room set flanked by elegant stairs, and a host of gorgeous costumes -- all of which looks quite period. But the blank verse script, stripped of all those lovely rhymes we usually associate with Moliere, is full of little gems like, “Oh, boy!” and “Are you serious?” that just don’t seem to fit.

Anachronisms aside, Hampton’s play also seems to break down in individual scenes that are devoid of dramatic build or climax (except for one winningly staged scene that almost does have an, ahem, climax). As a result, the dialogue takes on a certain sameness and a definite feeling of repetition within conversations.

Still, guest director Randi Jennifer Collins Hard does her best to pull energy and comedy from this lackluster version of the classic play. The big showdown, when Tartuffe’s lust gets the better of him in front of a hidden witness, is very nicely done, to maximum effect.

Other choices are not as fortunate, especially a few unique character interpretations that distract throughout. This is most notable with the ingenue, Marianne, and her hot-headed brother, Damis, who are both given tics that go over the line into caricature.

Kevin Asselin makes a commanding Tartuffe, however, with just a hint of modern day evangelist to underline his performance.

Also turning in good performances are Dennis Schnell, stalwart and clear as the voice of reason among all the craziness; Kristen M. Braitkrus, who looks good and moves even better as the object of Monsieur Tartuffe’s unwanted attention; and Dan Wolfe, who shows good stage presence in a smaller role as the young man who desires the hand of the daughter of the house.

In the evening’s tour de force, Stacey Alexandra Zielke takes center stage and runs with it, offering a feisty, free-thinking take on the maid, Dorine.

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