The Dog Run Rep at the South Street Seaport is presenting a new adaptation of Moliere’s classic, controversial comedy Tartuffe – written in verse and rhyming couplets by Jeff Cohen – who is also credited with direction. We all would have been better off if he had done neither.
Setting the piece in 1930’s New York seemed like a good idea. We are supposed to see the great parallel between the original, the 30’s and now – where excessively wealthy people have been swindled out of their wealth by Tartuffe or if you like, his modern day incarnation, Bernard Madoff or Paul Lynde who the actor portraying Tartuffe (Tom Ford) seems to be channeling. There is nothing in his performance to make us believe that he has the charm to dupe anyone out of anything. And we are in the thirties where the stock market did the duping. It just doesn’t work. With all the French characters intact. And what a bunch of characters as seen through the directorial eyes of Jeff Cohen there are.
Mrs. Pernelle, the wealthy Matriarch (Susan Jeffries) giving an impersonation of the Queen of England. Dorine, the saucy maid (Deanna Henson) with an inconsistent Irish brogue. Damis, the stuttering son (Aarron Costa Ganis) with an inconsistent stutter. Marianne, the lisping daughter (Katie Asche) making believe she is Eloise of the Plaza. Cleante, the verbose brother-in-law (Brian Linden) flitting around the stage. Orgon, the wealthy father (Keith Buterbaugh) loud and boisterous and overacting to the point where we feel we are in some awful silent movie. Valere, the romantic boyfriend (Rob Maitner) totally miscast and Mark DeFrancis who has the distinction of playing a cop from Brooklyn and Flipote – a maid in drag. There is also a dog.
The only two members of the cast that survive this catastrophe are the stylish and totally competent Christina DeCicco as Elmire, the sexy step-mother. She rises above the mire. In the small part of Mr. Loyal, Jasper Soffer makes an excellent impression. Too bad no one had the foresight to cast him as Tartuffe. It might have made a big difference. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have mattered considering the rest of the production. I’ll wait to see him in something more substantial.