From left: Campbell Weiss, Nikki Bires, and Bette Vadja in the St. Stephen's & St. Agnes production of “Tartuffe.”
Photo by Melissa Maas
Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" blares, bright swing dresses twirl, and a Californian family dances out of a 1950's sitcom and onto the stage of St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School's offbeat production of the classic “Tartuffe.”
Written in 1664, this classic French comedy is one of Moliere's most famous plays. It follows a wealthy family headed by father Orgon, who falls under the influence of the deceptively pious Tartuffe. Orgon offers his daughter's hand in marriage to Tartuffe (much to young Mariane's dismay), but Tartuffe sets his sight on Orgon's wife Elmire. The story has stood the test of time and been adapted for film, television, and opera despite originally being banned by church officials for its critique on religion.
As the titular "cunning scoundrel," JP Payro embraced the complexities of the slimy Tartuffe. Whether falling on his knees in faux religious zeal or leisurely striking a downward dog yoga pose, Payro revealed just as much with his actions as with his words. Orgon (Christian Corpening) was just as physically committed as Tartuffe, and the pair played off of each other to keep long scenes lively. Corpening embodied the commanding father figure as he practiced his putt on a golf green, lunged and jumped at Tartuffe, and burst out from under tables.
Elmire (Julia Burke) also exhibited an engaging dynamic with Tartuffe as she disgustedly fought off his advances and then theatrically ceded in a ploy to prove his true intentions to her husband. Children Mariane (Jen Lansing) and Damis (Jackson De Vallance) rounded out the family. Together, they non-verbally established a familiar sibling dynamic in the background of other scenes, and separately, they were believable as their respective angst-ridden teen girl and hot-headed young boy selves. Mariane sank to the floor in distress and rolled her eyes at her maid Dorine (the sassy and energetic Nikki Bires), and Damis plunged in and out of a fountain and wielded badminton rackets with reckless abandon. The pair brought youthful energy and comedy to an already funny show.
A breathtaking set (Daniel Wozniak) and period hair and makeup (Hanna Kidane) ground the production to the world of 1950's California. An enormous Spanish mission style house (built to code!) complete with white stucco arches and red terracotta roofing made the set multidimensional. Turf grass covered the stage and a lavish, functioning fountain served as gorgeous decor and the perfect place to eavesdrop. Primary colored costumes, pin curls, and classic red lips solidified the time period. To further enhance the updated setting, musicians Matthew Lu recorded jazzy renditions of 1950's classics to be played during scene transitions. This and the dimmed lighting of lanterns on the house created a relaxed California vibe that made transitions seamless.