Tartuffe, the fictional protagonist in what is perhaps Molière’s greatest work, has become the most famous pious con man in dramatic literature.
The current version by Soulpepper Repertory Theatre should not be missed by any Montreal theatre enthusiasts travelling to Toronto.
Molière, born six years after Shakespeare’s death and, like him, dead at only 51, managed to cram a number of classics into his relatively short life.
He was a true man of the theatre, from directing to set construction to acting. Ironically, he was seized with a tubercular fit while portraying his Malade Imaginaire and expired a few hours later.
In this present-day dress version, a number of Soulpepper stalwarts again deliver the goods. Diego Matamoros (a bombastic Roy Cohn in Angels in America) is here the quietly devious Tartuffe. Oliver Dennis is Orgon, the true believer naïve taken in by Tartuffe’s strategems, and Raquel Duffy is superb as Elmire, his practical wife who saves the day. These three alone have garnered 25 Dora nominations (winning six), as well as many other acclimations.
Eight other experienced members of the ensemble performed well, directed by internationally fêted Laszlo Marton. Each moved and spoke their lines with a naturalistic cadence that preserved the original verse.
Molière wrote his French plays in Alexandrines (12 syllables, 6 beats, rhyming couplets). This production, in the Richard Wilber translation to Shakespearean iambic pentameter (10 syllables, 5 beats. no rhyming endings), preserves the original feel of an underlying poetry in conversational flow.
Two non-speaking members of the cast impressed in this verbal feast. They are Frank Cox-O’Connell as Tartuffe’s bare-chested tattooed lackey, Laurent (glances, swagger) and Montreal’s recent addition, Mikaela Davies, as Flipore, servant to Orgone’s aged mother. Covered in heavy robes, I didn’t recognize her during the show. However, she will be quite noticeable in the company’s next show as Mary Warren in The Crucible.
Soulpepper, based at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the east-end Distillery District, is the largest urban repertory theatre company in Canada. Artistic director Albert Schultz, a co-founder, spoke about Hamlet at the Segal Centre four years ago.
Byron Toben is a regular Rover theatre reviewer
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann