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06Nov

Tartuffe - St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School - Alexandria, Virginia - November 3, 2017

Elizabeth Waldt

West Springfield High School

 

Molière and Johnny Cash? St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School's production of "Tartuffe" is the perfect blend of classic French literature and Rock and Roll.

 

Tartuffe was written for King Louis XIV in the seventeenth century. Written to satirize religious hypocrisy of the Church, the witty play was soon banned all throughout France. After major revisions, Tartuffe could take the stage once again in 1669. Since its debut, the play has been translated into rhyming English, to give Americans a taste of this  beloved French tale. Currently, this versatile comedy appears on stages all throughout the world, amusing audiences with the story of Tartuffe, the Imposter, as he attempts to swindle an innocent family out of their belongings.

 

As the impostor, the hypocrite, and a liar, Tartuffe (JP Payro) scored laughs from the audience from curtain to curtain. His confidence and commitment added relatable humor to a character written so long ago, even going as far as doing complicated yoga on stage. Payro showed tremendous presence on stage, drawing all eyes to him whenever he entered. Portraying the gullible and trusting head of the family, Orgon, senior Christian Corpening. His articulation and physicality helped the audience understand the intricacies of language written in the 1600's. Orgon's stern persona was perfectly crafted by Corpening as he marched around the stage, giving orders to everyone in his way. Together, Payro and Corpening showed tremendous dedication to their characters, as well as brilliant comedic timing that kept the audience laughing all night.

 

Portraying Mariane, Orgon's lovestruck daughter, was actress Jen Lansing, who brought a familiar, melodramatic element to her teenage character. She threw herself about stage and cried as her father told her she cannot marry her one true love, Valère (Sam Stevens). Together, Lansing and Stevens convinced the audience of their love with overwhelming chemistry. Mariane's pesky little brother, Damis, was played by freshman Jackson de Vallance, who served as hilarious comic relief in otherwise serious scenes. De Vallance maintained the audience's attention as he committed outrageous acts, such as jumping into a working fountain to spy on Tartuffe.

 

St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School has cleverly decided to blend this classic with something we all love-the 1950's. The production is set in the backyard of a lush 50's California home, with a detailed, running fountain. The skillfully designed set added dimensions to the show, giving the actors room to interact with the unique elements of the house. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of this production is the creativity that St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School has injected into the show. Going along with the 1950's theme, familiar tunes such as "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hit the Road Jack," and "I Walk the Line," have been added into the show. A brilliant addition to the show, these hits will have the audience dancing in their seats.

 

St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School's production of "Tartuffe" was a brilliantly executed performance. With hilarious actors, intricate sets, and Rock and Roll, this Stage One production is one to remember.


Kristen Waagner

McLean High School

 

How does a haughty hypocrite turn a town upside down? St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School's performance of "Tartuffe," reminiscent of the beloved sitcoms of the 1950's, takes the classical French comedy into the 20th century with a spectacular set and buoyant, physical performances by the talented cast.

 

First performed in 1664, "Tartuffe," also called "The Hypocrite," is renowned as one of Molière's foremost comedies. The story follows the affluent Orgon and his family, who have taken in the smug holy man Tartuffe, who preaches to them of mortal sin and self-denial. Although Orgon is thoroughly bewitched by the man's charms, his wife and children know Tartuffe to be a conniving fraud, out to take their wealth for himself. When Orgon plans to marry Tartuffe to his only daughter, only mayhem can ensue.

 

In his performance as the gullible, self-satisfied head-of-household, Christian Corpening imbued Orgon with a fatherly spirit while upholding the comedic demands of the role. His vocal variation and emphasis indicated an adept grasp of the show's hefty English translation. As a slick foil to Orgon's naiveté, JP Payro's Tartuffe shone with an animalistic physicality, consistent through his entire body. The cunning con-man's trickery added humor and lighthearted conflict to the play.

 

The talented ensemble cast that made up Orgon's household each brought a distinct energy to their character, connecting to form an irresistibly lovable familial dynamic. Damis (Jackson De Vallance) was especially hilarious, maintaining integrity even when being soaked while hiding in a fountain or attempting to whack Tartuffe with a tennis racket. Loving housewife Elmire (Julia Burke) played up the physical comedy of the script with domestic grace, excelling in the second act. The chemistry between Jen Lansing's pure, innocent Mariane and her steadfast fiancée, Sam Stevens' Valère, was reminiscent of the young love between Romeo and Juliet, though these lovers received a much happier ending. Nikki Bires embodied the brazen nature of the maid Dorine, the Nurse to Mariane's Juliet, and narrated the play with an enduring vitality.

 

Technical elements added to the 1950's air of "Tartuffe." Set in the backyard of a realistically sized Spanish missionary-style house, the skillfully-executed, multidimensional set included details such as a working fountain, arched walkways, matching lawn furniture, and terra-cotta roof tiles. Especially creative were the student-created smooth jazz covers of 1950's hits like "My Way" and "Stand by Me." These interludes added a polished ambiance to seamless transitions between scenes, which were flawlessly orchestrated by stage management. Additionally, the music contributed to the play's sitcom-like energy, notably in the expositional "title sequence" that opened the first act.

 

Replete with wildly entertaining physical comedy and lovable characters, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School's adaptation of "Tartuffe" proves that Moliere's story is as hilarious today as it was 400 years ago.

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