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Theater review: 'Tartuffe' at the Actors' Gang

April 7, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Tartuffe If the pile of balloons drifting center stage is any indication, director Jon Kellam intends his commedia-inspired “Tartuffe” at the Actors’ Gang to be a lighter-than-air romp.
It's also obvious that Kellam intended a jolly, pointedly anachronistic deconstruction of Moliere's play about an unctuous religious hypocrite who ruinously bamboozles a gullible French aristocrat.  Yet when directorial whimsy trumps text at every turn, which is does here, the effect can be curiously leaden. 

Pierre Adeli, who replaced an ailing cast member with scant time to rehearse, does a yeoman's job in the title role.  But his naturalistic turn seems at odds with the hyper-stylized performances of his fellows.

That tonal irregularity is a persistent problem.  Why are only two actors masked? Why, at the expense of emotional credibility, do the performers face dead-front to deliver their lines?  And why, among the prevalent burlesque, is there a moment of startling sexual specificity straight out of porn?

David Ball’s simplistic adaptation abounds with clunky couplets.  Also problematic is Jef Bek's live music, replete with intrusive cymbal effects that punctuate lines like water dropping in a metal sink.

Kellam, who directed “Tartuffe” at the Actors’ Gang in 2005, starts off on a pitch of manic energy that leaves little room to build. As for the obviously gifted performers, they take full advantage of their license, mostly to acute comic effect.  However, some indulge in profligate comic bits that have little to do with the play, indicating that Kellam's directorial hand, while certainly heavy, was none too firm.  Too often, Kellam throws le bébé out with the bathwater, sacrificing brilliance for business –- funny business that isn’t quite so funny.

-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Tartuffe,” The Actors’ Gang, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. $25. (310) 838-4264. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: Vanessa Mizzone, Pierre Adeli.  Credit: Kelly Dymon.