Sometimes I swear that theater groups read the morning paper, find the story of the day, then search back through classical literature for a parallel. That seems to be the case with the Walk-Ons production of "Tartuffe," anyway.
Here we have a pious man of God who - when no one's looking - turns into a sex fiend; a man who raises his arms to heaven while filling his hands with money and power; a man - in short - right up there with Swaggart, Bakker and the boys.As a playwright, Moliere, of course, is usually funny, often very wise, and always on the money with his social insight. The Walk-On costumes, period props and lighting are solid, though for the most part the cast members give the famous playwright his head and let the words speak for themselves.
Much to the enjoyment, I'm sure, of Dr. Charles Metten of BYU who did this new translation.
Wisely, Metten does not try to create a rhymed version to match the French. English translations in rhyme grow tedious very quickly. He does, however, offer a few couplets at the end of the first act and at the end of the play where the action is summed up that are quite charming.
On the other hand, some might claim he unwisely tackled quite a chore for himself in doing this play. Richard Wilbur, the former Poet Laureate of America, has already created what many feel is the definitive English version of the work.
Metten holds his own, however. And despite the fact that a few
"Utahisms" creep in (characters have a tendency to say "I've got" for "I have," for instance) the language is clean and generally fresh.
The cast also works hard. Most actors and actresses, I think, enjoy the chance to sink their teeth into a period comedy where the subtle psychology of modern drama gives way to broad gestures and zeal. And the Walk-Ons crew keeps the pot and plot boiling.
Mike Backman (Tartuffe) makes the strongest showing. The emotional barometer in the theater jumps a few notches every time he walks on stage. David Spencer - of "Irma Vep" fame - is a wonderful prissy, pompous Orgon.
Jayne Luke is her spry, puckish self as savvy Dorine, the maid. And Marilee Van Wagenen and Peggy Davis play two winsome women with lilting grace.
Problems? A couple. Having the cast members sit on chairs in view of the audience when they are not performing seems self-consciously experimental (Moliere meets "The Fantasticks"?), and the set is a bit stark and confusing at times.
For the most part, however, director John A. Green does a good job of putting his people through their paces. And the result is a high-energy, high-octane rendition of a French classic right off today's front page.