There are likely hundreds of colleges and universities with theater programs in the United States. One has to wonder if locally,University of Rhode Island is at a slight disadvantage. It’s nestled in the woods of South County. It doesn’t have the connection to a professional theater. It’s a University better known for sciences, engineering and the like. Still, while all that may be true, the theater department at URI consistently puts together excellent productions of a very high quality.
Case in point is the current wonderful production of Moliere’s play Tartuffe. Written in 1664, it revolves around the title character, an imposter and hypocrite who pretends to be a pious religious man so he can deceive a wealthy man, robbing him of his house and money. While the head of the household believes Tartuffe’s lies, his family conspires to reveal the truth.
Like any good fast-paced, bawdy, slapstick comedy, it’s all in the timing. Director Tom Gleadow has gotten the timing down right. The physical comedy really works well and as far as I could tell, no opportunity for a comic bit was left unfulfilled. He keeps things moving from beginning to end, the pace never lags and the time flies by.
Gleadow is assisted in this by an ensemble that was clicking on all cylinders at the performance I attended. Watching college actors is always a joy. They are young, enthusiastic and full of energy. They also know each other very well, spending so much time together in rehearsals, classes, other activities, in their dorms and around campus. One could argue that they know and trust each other better than other casts would.
Miles Boucher is among those who get the most stage time, as Orgon, the head of the household who is for a while duped by Tartuffe. He’s a charismatic and impressive actor who can also handle physical comedy with skill. Elmire, his wife who is the object of Tartuffe’s desire, is also excellent at the slapstick comedy while showcasing her acting talent. As the sleazy, smarmy Tartuffe himself, Birk Wozniak does a great job of being creepy and devious, and I mean that as a compliment.
Orgon’s daughter, Mariane, is played by Emily Foster, an actress who sort of typifies the cast. In a word, she is game. Up for whatever the role calls for, and doing it with both energy and a sense of fun. As a whole, the entire group seems to be having a lot of fun, which makes it even more entertaining for the audience.
Technically speaking, the show is not as much fun and doesn’t really live up to the show’s other elements. Costume design is serviceable, save for a few unfortunate wigs and ugly pairs of shoes. Thankfully, the lighting design is unobtrusive, but does have a few neat tricks up its sleeve. As for the set design, the show’s low point for me, it can only be described as lazy.
Still, these young performers bring Moliere’s play, still relevant today in many ways, to exuberant life. One can only hope that they will maintain that exuberance, passion and enthusiasm throughout their future lives and careers, theatrical or otherwise. And that URI will continue to provide them with the opportunity to create great performances like this one.
Tartuffe runs through March 4 atUniversityofRhode Island.