Theater review: Montford Park Players’ “Tartuffe” is magic under the moonlight

From left, Steven Samuels, Tracey Johnston-Crum and Darren Marshall. Photo courtesy of Montford park Players

There’s magic in the theater of the Montford Park Players. Perhaps it’s because the group has been doing Shakespeare in the park for over 40 years, making it the oldest in the state, and the third longest running outdoor Shakespeare theater in the nation. Or perhaps it is the perfection of a surprisingly cool summer’s night and the fading daylight setting the stage for the new production of Tartuffe.

Actually, Shakespeare is taking a little break for this first show of the new season. Tartuffe is a 17th century French comedy by master playwright Moliere (translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur), directed masterfully by Steven Samuels. Of course, the English verse does give the show enough of the Bard’s flavor to satisfy even the most ardent purist.

The title character is deftly delivered by Darren Marshall, a familiar face to MPP. He plays the pious-on-the-outside but rascally-on-the-inside role with panache. Tartuffe has wormed his way into the lives of a wealthy family. Elizabeth Dana-Wunderlich sets the tone as Madame Pernelle, the matron of this family. She is accompanied by the wise and sassy maid Dorine (sharply rendered by Sarah Felmet, her granddaughter Marianne (played by Samantha Stewart) and her beloved Valere (played by MPP staple Jason Williams). Madame Pernelle’s son Orgon and his wife, Elmire, dominate the action. Elaborate schemes and arrangements are made and betrayed, all to comedic delight.

Director Samuels fills the same shoes as the original author, assuming the role of the much beleaguered Orgon, whose schemes all begin to backfire under the manipulation of Tartuffe. Samuels is a seasoned professional who knows his way around the material and all but steals the show. Tracey Johnston-Crum plays Elmire, who becomes the object of Tartuffe’s lusty attention and then tries to ensnare him, exposing him to be a hypocrite and a liar.

All goes awry, but will be set right before the evening ends. That happens with the able aid of a tight ensemble of talented actors including Peter Lundblad, Matthew Harper and Terry Darakjy, all providing key parts to the clockwork precision that is unfolding on the massive (yet intimately designed, for this production) MPP stage. Kayren McKinght’s costumes are gorgeous to behold, and Kristi DeVille provides lush choreography to open and close the production, giving the proper look and feel of the period in spite of occasional sounds of fire engines in the far distance of the Asheville night.

Tartuffe runs through July 26, Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m., at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre. Admission is free (donations welcome).

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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2 thoughts on “Theater review: Montford Park Players’ “Tartuffe” is magic under the moonlight

  1. It is a great show! One correction, though, this is the second show in the summer season. Henry V, which was directed by Jason Williams started the season off. It was a fantastic way to start the summer. The rest of the season will continue with Taming of the Shrew and Coriolanus – which has NEVER been performed by the Montford Park Players.

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