Pomona Theater Department Presents Molire’s Tartuffe, or The Impostor

Actors boil with rage, collapse into tears, put on airs of seduction,
and jump about the stage while wearing ridiculously extravagant wigs and 17th-century garb in the Pomona College theater department’s production of Molière’s Tartuffe, or The Impostor, which opened yesterday and will show through March 9. Pomona’s production staging mirrors the play’s original text and context. 

At first, the show may seem a bit absurd, but the production proves its relevance to modern-day audiences. 

The farce could easily fall flat, but the cast embraces the melodrama of the show, allowing the viewer to buy into the madness and enjoy the comedic spectacle. Although Molière’s comedy has just turned 350 years old, the satire on religion, hypocrisy, and class continues to feel fresh. 

Director Leonard Pronko, who directed a production of Tartuffe at Pomona in 1961, wanted this weekend’s show to be authentic to its 17th-century origins. A rococo-inspired main room acts as the setting for the entire play, providing a dynamic
space for the actors. If anything, the accurate costumes add to the comedy of
the show. A man in a powdered wig and tights is a bit foreign to the Claremont
Colleges and, more often than not, will induce laughter.  

Tartuffe
is centered on an aristocratic French household that has been infiltrated by an
impostor posing as a pious man. In the original production of Tartuffe, Molière was nearly excommunicated because he portrayed Tartuffe as a religious hypocrite. Pronko decided to rely on Molière’s second version, in which Molière added the subtitle The Impostor

Oliver Shirley PO ’15 stars as Orgon, the head
of the household who has fallen under the spell of the trickster Tartuffe,
played by Neel Sood PO ’15. Drama ensues when Orgon decides to give his
daughter Mariane, an ingénue played by Yasmin Adams PO ’17, away as a bride to Tartuffe,
despite the fact that she is already betrothed to Valère, played by Christian
Romo PZ ’15. 

In the meantime, Tartuffe cannot forgo his lust for Orgon’s wife, Elmire, smartly played by Sonia Marton PO ’16, and repeatedly attempts to
seduce her. However, whenever any member of the household attempts to blame Tartuffe, Orgon stubbornly refuses to believe that the “devout”
Tartuffe possesses the ability to sin. 

All of the actors provide their own flair to the ensemble in their
telling of Molière’s farce, and cast members took some liberty interpreting the language. Some put on upper-class airs with their accents, which help emphasize the rhyming verse of the piece, but others tend to unnecessarily shout their lines, taking the melodramatic nature of the show a bit too far.

Shirley stands out in every scene as the hot-headed
Orgon. He embraces physical comedy, literally jumping up and down on the stage
in a melodramatic tantrum and shaking with rage before lashing out at
an innocent messenger. Although he seems ridiculous, Shirley is so immersed
within his character that his actions remain entirely believable to the
audience. As he attempts to restrain himself, it is easy to see how his
character’s acute temper is constantly in conflict with his desire to be righteous, suggesting Molière’s commentary on unconditional religious devotion. 

As the titular character, Sood takes the melodrama of the show to heart. His character is putting on a show, and remains aware that he must persistently uphold his front as a pious and preachy figure. The occasional sly smirk removes his mask and reveals the deceitful motives behind each action. Sood easily moves between these two facades, and his dynamic villain occasionally even manages to be likable.

Allegra Breedlove SC ’14 shines as the witty and honest servant Dorine.
Her character provides a grounded perspective to each situation, and her fluid
performance pulls together every scene in which she appears. Adam Faison PZ ’15
also lends a voice of reason in the role of Cléante, Elmire’s visiting brother,
whose practical advice is tolerated more than Dorine’s thanks to his status and
gender. When the dramatics of their fellow cast members exceed the limits
an audience can tolerate, these two actors bring them back to reality with their
effortless charm.

Tartuffe moves toward a more dire and hilarious situation, but all is resolved in the end with a wedding. Although the show is foolish at times,
the actors work well together to create an enjoyable theater experience and leave audience members thinking about hypocrisy, religious
fervor, and the actors’ incredible ability to balance both heavy wigs and plumed hats
upon their heads. 

Tartuffe, or The Imposter will be showing at the Seaver Theatre at
Pomona today and tomorrow at 8 p.m., as well as tomorrow and Sunday
at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the Seaver Box Office or by calling (909)
607-4375. 

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