By Gabriel Talley, Podcast producer
“Tartuffe” is the Montevallo Theatre Department at the peak of its own powers, successfully modernizing a near 400-year-old play with a bevy of outstanding production choices.
The major story beats of the original play are left unchanged, allowing the eponymous Tartuffe, played by Josh Norris, to terrorize the Orgon house as per usual. The interplay between characters is maintained, and heightened in many cases, with chase sequences or bouts of dialogue spilling directly into the audience.
It is through those characters that the structural changes to “Tartuffe” are made so joyful and visible. Whether it is by physically pointing to the “Tartuffe” signature spray-painted in the background, Mariane asking the narrator for an accent change or quick ad-libs when a sword snaps in half, each member of the ensemble enjoys themselves and plays out their roles to the fullest extent.
Each moment of the story is punctuated by jokes and punchlines that are well-timed and, in their best moments, given room to breathe. I especially enjoyed smaller moments where characters would rope in modern references to intentionally jar the audience.
The dialogue throughout is engaging, and I constantly found myself looking from the stage to the audience to the exit, following each action. Characters can be more difficult to hear during these more frantic sequences, if only because they are drowned out by the laughter of the audience.
Kam Sanderfer delivers a standout performance as Cam Comico, a narrator added by the department to help move the story along and engage more with the crowd. While the character is wholly original, Sanderfer doesn’t ever feel out of place, becoming the center of each sequence he is in.
Comico also acts as a wonderful lens for the audience, teaching the crowd how and when to respond, and giving the rest of the cast tools to iterate on the play with, starting or stopping certain moments and allowing for typically static characters to have more agency.
Orgon, played by Will Harrell, gives another strong performance as the incredulous head of the household. I genuinely enjoyed how his character was further explored, particularly in his unwavering devotion to Tartuffe.
From the supporting cast members, Romeo Grant as Damis takes control of each scene with his inflection, mannerisms and attention to the smallest details. His character is indicative of the cast as a whole, always crafting a memorable snapshot while complimenting his peers.
The show is a collection of engaging, powerhouse performances complimented by strong technical decisions made for the stage. Both in the use of lighting to punctuate a break in the action for Comico, or omniscient voices coming over the house microphone to speak with particular characters, it is easy to see a consistent vision being executed from every angle of the production.
To further highlight these decisions, the physical set design is kept somewhat minimal. Each cast member feels very free in their movement and expression of the space, and the more muted pieces of the house they inhabit end up enhancing each character’s wild movements or vibrant clothing.
The show feels alive, aware of itself and the audience that characters are darting in and out of. Each moment lands with laughter, helping to make a 70-minute runtime feel like a lighthearted 10-minute conversation.
Given the content and nature of the show, it is rewarding to see the effort put into individualizing the show come across in such a striking fashion. The Montevallo Theatre department built a diverse house from the solid, straightforward foundation of the story, crafting a performance that was genuinely memorable.