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Theater Review: American Stage's Tartuffe

ST PETERSBURG – If you live in America and have yet to tire of this year’s election debacle, you must be a masochist of sorts. No matter how it ends, we could all surely use a good laugh and I can think of no better way than a hilariously-biting look at the sorry state of our political arena via American Stage’s adaptation of Molire’s Tartuffe.

Making his American Stage debut, Urbanite Theatre co-founder Brendan Ragan crossed the Skyway Bridge to deliver this delicious adaptation of a 17th century satire so cleverly sardonic that the Archbishop of France not only banned its performance but threatened anyone who participated with excommunication.

Ragan, an FSU/Asolo Conservatory alum and one of the area’s more talented actors, has recently been establishing himself as a director of note, coming off well-received regional premieres of The Drowning Girls and Breadcrumbs at Urbanite. Out of the black box and onto a bigger stage, Tartuffe gives him a chance to flex different muscles working with a much bigger cast. Politically passionate and astute, he was perhaps the ideal director for the job and the result is quite a clever spectacle.

Robert Caisley’s adaptation throws the play into a modern American setting during a presidential election remarkably similar to the one that has unfolded. A near continuous adaptation that occurred almost in real time still found it difficult to elevate the play to credible satire, considering it was attempting to skewer a reality so absurd as the one we are living through. As American Stage's Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte put it, the spectacle created by the candidates, their supporters and the media continuously surpassed whatever fictional farce they tried to create.

Tartuffe is a scoundrel and mooch who successfully wins the favor of a conservative billionaire named Orgon who takes him on as a confidant and spiritual advisor, eventually elevating him to a presidential candidate that would fit right into the 2016 election cycle.

American Stage Improv co-founder Ricky Wayne is uproariously over the top as Tartuffe, while bay area stage vet Ned Averill-Snell turns in a first-rate performance as Orgon. Broadway veteran Jan Neuberger adds a wonderful dash of clever glitz as Orgon’s mother, Pernelle.

Georgia Mallory Guy is delightful as Dorine, the whip-smart assistant who’s the first to figure Tartuffe for a charlatan, and Abigail Cline shows tremendous promise as Orgon's beautiful daughter Maryann, whom he plans to marry off to the vulgar Tartuffe against her wishes.

Jerid Fox's elaborate and ornate set gives the production significant visual depth, aided by two big screens used effectively for multimedia purposes, broadcasting campaign commercials and other material that pull the audience deeper into the conceit.

Tartuffe is a raucous good time that political junkies of all stripes looking for a distraction that’s not too far off the green will be sure to enjoy. Think of it as a 90-minute, high-brow version of an SNL cold opening. Hurry and heal, it plays through Nov. 20 at American Stage in downtown St. Pete. Visit their website for ticket and schedule information.


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