Molière deep-fried and siz­zling

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THEATRE JOHN NATHAN


IT TURNS out that spilling from an ag­o­nis­ingly slow train, and ar­riv­ing 10 min­utes late into Mar­cus Gard­ley’s fe­ro­cious ver­sion of Molière’s Tartuffe is no bad way to see an up­dated clas­sic. By that point in the evening the story of sham Gospel preacher and se­rial phi­lan­derer Toof (ged­dit?), played by Lu­cian Msamati with the South­ern charm of a snake-oil sales­man, is in full flow.

And the rip­tide speed of Indhu Rubas­ing­ham’s pro­duc­tion al­lows lit­tle time to pon­der such niceties as whether Molière’s 17th-cen­tury French satire suits Amer­ica’s mod­ern day Deep South. In Gard­ley’s ver­sion, Toof in­vei­gles his way into the house of fried-chicken ty­coon Or­gandy, whose fail­ing health is given a new lease of life by the preacher’s pow­ers of pious sug­ges­tion.

The same pow­ers per­suade Or­gandy to cut his mis­tress and chil­dren from his will, re­plac­ing them with the schem­ing Toof as sole in­her­i­tor. Reli­gious hypocrisy is ex­posed as com­pletely in 21st-cen­tury At­lanta as it is in Molière’s orig­i­nal set­ting, 17th-cen­tury Paris.

My only gripe is that Gard­ley’s rhyming cou­plets are some­times of the frus­trat­ingly near-rhyme kind. “Ado­nis” is paired with “prom­ise” etc. A proper lyri­cist would do bet­ter. How­ever, in all other re­spects the writ- ing is mus­cu­lar, and as vivid and rude as neon.

Msamati is ter­rific as are Sharon D. Clarke and Ad­joa An­doh as the fierce women Toof has wronged. No punches are pulled in this war of words that are cat­a­pulted to their tar­get with the rhythm of Gospel prayer. “I promised to stand by you un­til death did you part,” rails Clarke as the long-suf­fer­ing wife.

What drives this show, how­ever, is the stacks of sass and say-it-to-the­hand at­ti­tude, some­thing that the tri­cy­cle’s Rubas­ing­ham showed a great ear for with her re­cent Na­tional Theatre pro­duc­tion of The Moth­erf**ker with the Hat. And it’s never more pow­er­ful here than in the con­fronta­tion be­tween Andho’s al­lur­ing Peaches, mis­tress to the fried-chicken ty­coon, and the but­toned-up piety of Clarke’s preacher wife. What starts out as clash of con­trasts ends up as deeply mov­ing sis­terly mu­tual re­spect. And when Toof an­nounces the death of God, in­vok­ing last June’s still raw church mas­sacre at Charleston, you know that Molière has been truly wrenched into the 21st cen­tury. In the week be­fore the Tri­cy­cle up­dated Molière’s at­tack on reli­gious piety, the Young Vic did the same for Shake­speare’s. As An­gelo, the newly in­stalled ruler of Vi­enna, Paul Ready chill­ingly turns meek mod­esty into an im­pla­ca­ble ruth­less­ness. His self­ap­pointed job is to cleanse his citys­tate of sin. You can hardly blame him. You can’t move for blow-up dolls. They com­i­cally bob and loll around Miriam

in ac­tion Beuther’s cube of a set like corks in a bath. It’s a re­lief, then, that as the sis­ter of Clau­dio, the man con­demned by An­gelo to death for im­preg­nat­ing his lover out of wed­lock, Ro­mola Garai is an oa­sis of virtue and faith.

So con­vinc­ing is she, and so cer­tain of his right­eous­ness is An­gelo, the shock of his at­tempted rape and black­mail car­ries the charge of a light­ning bolt. Di­rec­tor Joe Hill-Gib­bins uses all man­ner of en­ter­tain­ing ef­fects to keep us en­gaged. And, un­like some of his past pro­duc­tions, they work very well.

But that’s be­cause they don’t dis­tract from the se­ri­ous un­der­tow that keeps all the fire­works an­chored. An­gelo’s Vi­enna is a place of un­op­posed God’s rule. And with no ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion made, Isis is still evoked, as is the no­tion of what that brand of piety would look like if it was here.

Young Vic


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