Tartuffe, Wing & Groove Theatre. Few shows are more deadly than classic comedies staged as museum pieces. But sometimes updating a centuries-old play renders it nonsensical. Such is the case with adapter Megan Powell and director Andrew Gall’s confused, shtick-heavy attempt at Moliere’s satire on religious hypocrisy: though the actors wear period costumes, all conventions of 17th-century French society have been eliminated. The play opens in the home of Orgon, an overzealous semisadist who’s taken in the impostor Tartuffe, posing as a penniless penitent. In the first scene Orgon’s maid Dorine ridicules his blind devotion to Tartuffe, but rather than being impudent within the limitations of the master-servant relationship, she blows raspberries in his face. No bourgeois gentleman would keep such a woman in his employ.
The production is rife with such credibility gaps. And the cast’s wide range of acting styles sends the show careening from farce to slapstick to burlesque to parody. Scenes are even reworked in defiance of the plot’s logic: although Tartuffe’s success depends upon maintaining a convincing facade, here he not only admits his chicanery to Orgon’s brother Cleante midway through but goes to the cartoonish extreme of torturing him with an oversize rosary. When others later find Cleante strapped to a chair, they proceed as though this were nothing out of the ordinary. At moments like this one wonders how carefully anyone read the play.