A Wolf in the Parlor

The charlatan Tartuffe sharpens his teeth on plush surroundings at the Lee Center for the Arts.

The first thing you'll notice about Seattle University's production of Tartuffe, which ends its run this week at the school's lovely new Lee Center for the Arts, is the stunningly lavish set. In a space nearly the dimensions of a basketball court, designer Carol Wolfe Clay has reproduced a 17th-century drawing room in rich burgundies and deep mahoganies. It's breathtaking. If expenses were spared, it doesn't show—the sparkling chandeliers, plush settees, ornate, dark-wood writing desks, and velvet draperies invite the eye to wander and marvel at the intricate detail and elaborate charm of Clay's handiwork. It's a perfect setting, a kind of bourgeois minefield meant to induce a stupor of complacent languor.

Fortunately, such bountiful surroundings are put to very good use. Sharply directed by Ki Gottberg—whose A Compendium of Nastiness was the surprise hit of the year—this is an energetic and fast-paced satire that strikes a proper balance between the play's light and dark elements. Molière's story is as simple as its observations are complex: A spiritual charlatan, the wily Tartuffe (Erik Maahs), has insinuated himself into the good graces of the gullible Orgon (Patrick Bonck), paterfamilias of an extremely wealthy extended family. The play unwinds as a long, hilariously tortuous progress toward disillusionment, as family and friends attempt to reveal to Orgon the truth of Tartuffe's intentions.

The large cast is composed mostly of Seattle U students, and everyone turns in a spirited performance. Standouts include Meg Cowan as Elmire, Orgon's second wife; Andrew Perez as son Damis; and Bonck, whose pretentious baritone and haughty mannerisms capture the lofty arrogance of the wealthy dupe. And Maahs, a 15-year veteran of the Seattle theater scene, is appropriately devilish and greedy as the duplicitously pious Tartuffe.


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