French original takes on comedic Newfoundland flavour

Gordon Jones
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Andy Jones does ingenious, riotous adaptation of ‘Tartuffe’

Andy Jones as Tartuffe. — Photo by Micaela Morey

First performed in 1664 at the court of King Louis XIV, “Tartuffe” is Moliere’s great satirical comedy about religious hypocrisy.

After its royal inauguration, it was banned under pressure from offended church officials. The second play to open in Cupids this summer, in the Indeavour Elizabethan-style playhouse, is an English adaptation of “Tartuffe,” which should manage a longer run than its 17th-century forerunner.

Tartuffe is a parasitical, mock-pious preacher, who has insinuated himself into the prosperous household of Orgon, a gullible and tyrannical paterfamilias, who ardently believes in the genuineness of his guest’s principles and precepts.

However, the sanctimonious Tartuffe hankers after Orgon’s wife, while the credulous husband determines to wed his daughter to the populist preacher, disinherits his son in a fit of anger, and recklessly signs over to Tartuffe all the family goods and possessions.

On the verge of being legally evicted from their home, the family is rescued from the consequences of Orgon’s credulity only when Reverend Tartuffe is discredited by a last-minute, deus-ex-machina intervention of benign royal authority.

The French original of the play was written in rhyming verse (alexandrines), and the same verse form is cleverly and subtly maintained — to considerable comic effect — in Andy Jones’s adaptation of the play, with often unexpected and amusing end rhymes.

But don’t expect period costume and faux-French accents in this production. Costume, language and behaviour are unceremoniously bundled into the midst of 20th-century Newfoundland culture, with its distinctive vocabulary and usage.

Dialogue is peppered with comically unexpected colloquialisms and salty Newfoundland idiom: sleeveen, gob-smacked, shut your cakehole, busting their guts, lazy ’angashore, frig you!

Cast performance is uniformly strong, in a production driven by manic energy. Andy Jones in clerical collar and purple stock is superb in the role of the bible-thumping, self-flagellating, black-bearded preacher. Two whole hours of Father Dinn in full flight, you might say.

Gerry Etienne plays the infatuated and deluded domestic tyrant, with a huge vocal range, from silky insinuation to volcanic rant and outrage. His rational and skeptical brother, who will have no truck with Tartuffe’s hypocritical piety, is a suave and elegant Paul Rowe. And in the role of their mother, who is as much a disciple of Tartuffe as her son, cross-dressed Greg Malone is priceless.

Petrina Bromley is the clever and uppity maid, never reluctant to speak her mind to her foolish master, while Alison Woolridge takes the role of Orgon’s wife, pursued by Tartuffe. She is absolutely splendid in the hilarious scene in which the lecherous preacher tries to rape her on the table beneath which her husband is hiding.

Her daughter, feisty Marianne, pouting and scowling, is played with comic panache by Courtney Brown. Marianne’s young sweetheart, who is almost pipped at the post by Orgon’s desire to marry his daughter to Tartuffe, is a fresh and feckless Jake Bradbury.

Her angry brother, outraged by Tartuffe, disinherited by his father, is loud and downright Neil Butler in flat-cap and sweater.

And the dea-ex-machina resolving the play is Cathy Elliott in the uniform of a Newfoundland Ranger, delivering to Orgon a royal pardon and arresting the unscrupulous Tartuffe.

All in all, the cast of this production is something of a dream-team.

Directed by Jillian Keiley — her last local engagement before leaving to assume the position of artistic director of the English section of the National Theatre Centre — Andy Jones’s ingenious and riotous adaptation of “Tartuffe,” or, “The Hypocrite,” with Jones in the leading role, can be seen at 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. on various dates up to the closing date of Aug. 26 (see the New World Theatre Project website for particulars).

With one 15-minute intermission, running time of a supercharged production is two hours.

Organizations: National Theatre Centre, New World Theatre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Cupids

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