Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Red, White, and Truff

Sex, booze, and politics. What could be better? That's what Three Day Hangover offers in their latest boozy theatre experience. Presented at McAlpin Hall at The West Park Church, Jake Brandman's adaptation of Tartuffe gets the crowd revved up for the upcoming election season by tossing the titular character in a Senate race.
Directed by Beth Gardiner, Tartuffe is transported to a nondescript Red State as Olga, the well-off offspring of a renowned Republican governor, hosts the rising political star Tartuffe in her home all while running his campaign. With Moliere plot points drizzled in, this modern Tartuffe is a politically charged sex farce with a fun little drinking game attached. To get the crowd rallied for the night, the host of the night establishes the rules of the drinking game in a very long-winded lead up before the actual Tartuffe text arrives. The game we play is the truth revealing Never Have I Ever. And it's apropos to the story. But once the rules are established Tartuffe is a fun romp that is satire-lite. Brandman's script utilizes verse and prose to pay homage to the original scribe with a twist of modern charm. For those who know the Moilere classic, you will certainly appreciate this politically charged modern adaptation but it does require an immense amount of knowledge of the source material to comprehend. That being said, you have to commend Brandman for going for the political and social talking point jugular. Brandman layers his script with topical jokes, some that leap past the line of politically correct. From the ridiculousness that is the Republican Party to an abundance of abortion references, it's like a session of Hot Topics on "The View". Brandman is brave where he takes his jabs but some will find them unsavory. To bring the play to the modern age, the husband and wife are virtually swapped to allow for a gay love trap between Elmer and Tarruffe.
The characters that Brandman and the company are certainly what makes Tartuffe tick. The most memorable performance comes from Carol Linnea Johnson as Olga. Johnson's high-octane Olga is wonderfully confident yet beautifully oblivious. Johnson is quick on her feet with a sharp tongue. Just the way she carries herself evokes the hilarity of politics. As the titular character, Tom Schwans looks the part of sleazy politician. And he spews the sleaze like venom. Schwans makes Tartuffe one of those villains you love to hate. Olga's kids serve to prove how ridiculous the lifestyles of snotty privileged offspring can be and Dan Morrison and Abbey Siegworth do a wonderful job going above and beyond over-the-top. Chris Morrison as the coke-loving, impromptu ideal-wielding David gives the most physical of performances. Morrison throws himself all over the stage while dousing himself with coke. And he easily wins over the crowd when he breaks because of the non-stop fun he has. Abbey Siegworth's Mary is whiny and bratty without becoming annoying. Like most productions of Tartuffe, the breakout character is Doreen. Leah Gabriel as the Australian maid brings the witty and dry humor that is unlike any other character. Gabriel's Doreen is truly the glue that keeps the family and show together.
To bring Tartuffe to the masses, director Beth Gardiner utilizes the theater in the round model, staging the show in the center of the hall. With only a chaise in the center and a piano in the corner, Gardiner keeps the action in the open. Gardiner manages to keep most of the company visible to backs are inevitable. The biggest struggle the production faced were the transitions back into the text following the Never Have I Ever bits. With the statements generally being quite funny, it's likely that you'll be stuck chatting about what you have or haven't done when the play is back in action. Certainly the conceit is necessarily to the boozy aspect of the show but discovering a seamless way out is quite necessary. For the second straight show, Three Day Hangover found a home at McAlpin Hall. The moody ambiance and darkness worked for Dracula. Sadly it didn't quite work as well for Tartuffe. With the lights on full, the space was seen completely and it didn't feel like Olga's home. Red, white, and blue filled the room but it felt a bit thrown together. Thankfully the costumes by Caitlin Cisek made up for it. Cisek found great inspiration by the typical garb candidates wear, patriotic shoulder pads and all.
Tartuffe was a well-timed production that brought out a fun drinking game but as a whole, it didn't quite reach its full potential. Nevertheless, fun was definitely had.