The rain that hit the bucket in Brooklyn in the middle of the second act of “Tartuffe” on Saturday would normally have stopped the show.
But now it is not normal for the young theater group Moliere in the park, whose name and mission promise outdoor performance. Originally planned before the pandemic, as a personal open-air production in the LeFrak Center on the lake Instead, production took place online at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where the weather doesn’t matter and nobody gets wet.
That might not have been important if it hadn’t been so good, but this is an implicitly political “tartuffe”, full of joy for our nondescript time. Under the fast, clear direction of Lucie Tiberghien and with the leading role Raul Esparza as a fraudster and Samira Wiley as its sign, it reminds us that hypocrisy is nothing new and that the hope of overcoming it is still alive today.
This was partly the message of the technical workaround, which turned the disadvantages of the format – the lack of intimacy, the unreal space, the inevitable interference – into advantages of access. For one, many more people could watch and see the actors more accurately than usual, even if the actors couldn’t look back.
In addition, the incessant bliss of Richard Wilbur’s 1963 translation via earphones was clearer than for unaided ears. If this was not the case, subtitles were available in English and French. (The French Institute Alliance Française is co-moderator of the event.)
However, these are technical questions that do not form the core of the strength and timeliness of production. “Tartuffe” is obviously a strong piece at first since it has kept its place in the world’s dramatic repertoire (with short breaks to ban it) since its premiere in 1664. Moliere addresses the problem that weak people lay out welcome mats using bad, unusually sharp arrows; they still pierce us.
What favors the resonance of the story now is that Tartuffe, especially in Esparza’s hilarious Outré performance, is not really a hypocrite that implies basic beliefs, but a brisk huckster without. Religiosity is just a disguise that he puts on to defeat Wiley’s orgone, a rich old man who, with little moral of his own, is particularly vulnerable to the appearance of morality in others. Seeing Esparza fingering his rosary as if it were a sex toy and Wiley falling in love with it means seeing how fraudsters and cheaters depend on each other’s extremes.
Another reason for the success of this “Tartuffe” in 2020 is that almost all of its main characters are colored people – and some, like Wiley, a star of “Orange is the New Black” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”, also play across genders . It is a pleasure to see Kaliswa Brewster (when the daughter Orgon tries to marry Tartuffe) and Toccarra Cash (as the woman he also holds in her arms) digging in roles that may not work for them in more traditional productions To be available. The most prominent role a white actor plays is Dorine, the maid, in a classic soubrette by Jennifer Mudge.
But the casting is more than a show of diversity for its own sake, however welcome that may be. When the play gets into crisis and Orgon realizes too late that he has ruined his family by sheer gullibility, Tiberghien makes a small but decisive change to the story. Orgone is saved by the intervention of Louis XIV. No longer as in the standard text; He is saved by the people themselves and ultimately uses their power to pursue the fraud in their midst. “With a keen eye, we saw all the perversity and corruption of his soul,” Esparza recites, no longer as a Tartuffe, but as himself.
It would be difficult to overlook the allusion to current disadvantages and crises in the White House and beyond, or consider it irrelevant. In this context, a simple line of relief in Wilbur’s translation – “I’m finally breathing again” – assumes profound new meaning, especially spoken of this cast.
When each actor pronounced it from separate zoom-like fields (and from different time zones in Los Angeles, New York and Italy), “Tartuffe” delivered a moment of grace that I would not have thought possible today.
It also fulfilled the promise of a streamed theater that I hadn’t thought of before: the promise of rapprochement. I don’t just mean that more than 5,000 people could see the two shows on Saturday, although this is far more than the typical personal capacity of the LeFrak Center of around 200. (Infinite more can see the recording available on YouTube until 2 p.m. on Wednesday.)
I also think that the many people who have experienced and surfed the uprisings on their cell phones and laptops will feel at home in this “Tartuffe” with its deliberately pixelated low-tech atmosphere and inconspicuous green screen aesthetics. (Paul Pinto’s music is particularly fitting.) If the obstacles to the theater fall as a genre – this show is free – what appears can be a revolution of its own.