'Tartuffe's' second run sublime
Barbara Blake-Hannah, Contributor
The Jamaican entertainment scene is not limited to reggae shows, reggae movies and musical farewells for reggae icons. While three days of tributes to Gregory Isaacs occupied the entertainment headlines last week, there was a surprise offering for the adventurous who filled the Philip Sherlock theatre at the University of the West Indies for a present-ation by the University Players of Tartuffe - a rollicking comedy which was quite at home on the Jamaican stage, despite the fact that it was written in French by French playwright Moliere and - moreover - written in rhyming verse.
Set in Paris in the 1660s, Tartuffe seems an unlikely play to present to Jamaican audiences with its period costumes, language and setting. But under the direction of noted thespian Paul Issa, who also acted in the lead role, the play translated perfectly with its Jamaican actors and had the audience in stitches for almost the entire production.
The story: Orgon, a wealthy Parisian, has fallen victim to Tartuffe - a clever fraudster disguised as a priest - who he invites into his house to live, despite the objections of his family, friends and servants who are at pains to point out the inconsistencies in Tartuffe's behaviour when Orgon is not around, including attempts to seduce Orgon's wife Elmire. Orgon, blind to all efforts to show him the truth, instead insists that his daughter Mariane marries Tartuffe, and to seal the deal, signs over the deed to his house as a gift to this union.
Elmire and Mariane decide on a plan to let Orgon see Tartuffe in his true light and they succeed in unmasking him in the play's central scene. But, newly armed and enriched by the land title, Tartuffe turns the tables on the family and nearly succeeds in having them evicted from their home, before his game finally collapses and he is ushered off to jail.
The actors are some of Jamaica's best. Alwyn Scott as Tartuffe shows his talent, switching from his fake fawning demeanour to his cunning con-man self, and he commands the stage with his antics. Veteran Munair Zacca - well known to Jamaican audiences from his long-running stint on popular Jamaican soap opera Royal Palm Estate, gives texture to his role as Orgon's best friend and adviser. Marsha Ann Hay, another very talented Royal Palm veteran who is a delight to watch, plays wife Elmire as an elegant and sexy aristocrat, while Joanna Hart as Orgon's mother gives the role the right amount of eccentricity befitting an older woman. Minor roles by Natasha Griffiths as daughter Mariane, Brian Johnson as her boyfriend Valere, and Clive Duncan (who stretches a small part as the Baliff into a major comedic moment), enhance the production with their acting skills.
However, the play's two standout performances come, first, from Teisha Duncan as Dorine, the family maid forever in everyone's business and ready with witty advice, who earned the largest applause at curtain call for her dynamic stage presence, facial expressions and clever delivery. Though Tartuffe was her first appearance on a Jamaican stage, it will surely not be her last.
The greatest praise, however, must go to director Paul Issa in the lead role of Orgon. His stage presence and acting ability held the entire production together and he was both believable and excellent in his role. With a beautiful set and costumes by his wife Oriente, Paul Issa showed that a good play will always entertain, whether set in classical or modern times.
Going out on a limb with Tartuffe, Issa is proud of the rave reviews the play has received during its run in the Jamaican media and the nearly full nightly audiences.
As we place a red rose for Gregory Isaacs, we send a bull bouquet to all involved in the production of Tartuffe.