To Orgon and his mother, Tartuffe is the epitome of piety, a master of morality, a paragon of perfection, a saint. To everyone else in Orgon's household, his wife, his children, his servants and assorted relatives, Tartuffe is a scoundrel, a fraud, a conniving con artist, a charlatan. How can one man engender so many accolades and acrimonious accusations all at the same time?
To learn who is the better judge of character, let the French master playwright Moliere introduce you to his 1664 play, cleverly adapted into rhyming verse by Richard Wilbur, "Tartuffe," the first offering of the Yale Summer Cabaret. Until Saturday, June 15, the Cabaret, which has been producing fine theatrical performances since 1974, will be opening its intimate seventy-four seat venue for snacks, dinner and theater downstairs at 217 Park Street in New Haven.
Chris Bannow is the pompous and opinionated Orgon, the father who knows best what his family needs and wants. That his mother Madame Pernelle (Prema Cruz) agrees wholeheartedly with him only adds fire to his overinflated zeal. While he sings the praises heavenward of Tartuffe, perfectly portrayed by an imposter posing as pious in the hands of Mamoudou Athie, his family tries in vain to remove the blinders and rose colored glasses that hide the truth.
Led by the maid Dorine, an astute and inventive Ashton Heyl, his wife Elmire (Michelle McGregor), his son Damis (Ato Blankson-Wood), his daughter Mariane (Celeste Arias), her suitor Valare (Mitchell Winter), his brother-in-law Cleante (Mickey Theis), the clan bands to unmask the monster in their midst, Tartuffe. The merriment and mischief reach a mountain of madness, as Orgon rejects all the implications of Tartuffe being a swindler as preposterous and signs over not only all his worldly goods to this "imposter" but promises him his daughter Mariane to seal the unscrupulous deal. Thankfully Flipote (Ceci Fernandez) a clever messenger from the King, has the power to save the day.
Dustin Wills directs this romp with aplomb on an inspired set by Kate Noll, with colorful period costumes by Seth Bodie. For tickets ($14 students, $25 public), call the Yale Summer Cabaret at 203-432-1567 or online at www.summercabaret.org. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with doors opening for dinner at 6:30 p.m. as well as selected Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Next up is August Strindberg's "Miss Julie" June 20-29, followed by Federico Garcia Lorca's "The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife" July 11-20, Tennessee Williams' "In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel" July 25-August 3 and Caryl Churchill's "Heart's Desire" and "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You" August 8-18. A late night show follows every Friday performance.
Come early at 6:30 p.m. for a delicious menu prepared by executive chef Anna Belcher, featuring such offerings as baked Brie with baquettes ($8), quiche with spinach and gruyere ($7), chicken roulade stuffed with leeks and goat cheese and pommes Anna ($16) and crepes with fresh berries ($4), among many others.
Will Tartuffe be unmasked as the self-aggrandizing fake he is or will he continue to deceive and delude Orgon, his major benefactor and chief cheerleader? Come discover for yourself.