Friday, May 19, 2017

Theater Review - Tartuffe + REP 2016-17 Wrap-Up

Written by Moliere
Translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Maria Aitken
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, April 30, 2pm
Photo by Evan Krape / REP

No review of this per se as this production has long ceased.  A few words simply for my own posterity's sake.

  • The production was engaging and well-acted although in these over-the-top farcical plays, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players sometimes chew the scenery a bit more than necessary, crafting comedic "caricatures" as opposed to comedic "characters."
  • Beautiful set -- as is typical of the REP's productions.  Hugh Landwehr's three story abode featured clever touches that added a lived-in sensibility to the atmosphere.  Looking back over my previous reviews, Mr. Landwehr has teamed up with director Maria Aitken before at the REP for Heartbreak House and while his set doesn't quite match the exquisiteness and uniqueness of that prior attempt, it comes close.
  • Speaking of Aitken, she keeps things briskly moving along and while I did find a bit of fault with some of the performances, Aitken gets her cast to land all of the comedic bits in great fashion.  I certainly laughed and enjoyed myself over the course of the play's two hours.
  • As I'll discuss below, fresh faces are growing increasingly important for the REP (in my opinion) and co-stars Kristin Villanueva and Justin Keyes as two lovers were welcome additions to the cast this go-around.
This REP season overall was a bit of a disappointing one.  The first show of the season -- God of Carnage -- ended up being my favorite piece of the season.  I really think the REP excels nowadays with modern works because it allows the ensemble to explore a more modern sensibility in terms of acting.  These "current" works are few and far between for them and I think it freshens things up.

While I appreciate the consistency of the ensemble, it proves to be a double-edged sword.  Some of their actorly mannerisms have now grown so well-known to this frequent theatergoer that it hinders my ability to see the character they're creating.  While I still thoroughly enjoy longtime REP members Stephen Pelinski, Kathleen Pirkl Tague, Elizabeth Heflin, Michael Gotch, and Mic Matarrese, it's always nice to see some fresh faces thrown into the mix.  This season Hassan El-Amin was added to the ensemble and I hope he'll continue to get some prominent placement in upcoming shows.  I'll also continue to hope that the University of Delaware's theater program brings back its well-regarded PTTP training program for graduate students.  Nothing quite compared to that fantastic 2010-11 season of ten productions featuring both the resident ensemble plus the talented student cast.  I miss those days, but unfortunately this just doesn't seem like something the University wishes to bring back.

Regardless, the REP continues to excel at creating exquisite environments -- set and costume design never disappoint and are sometimes worth the price of admission alone.  Unfortunately, something just didn't quite click with me this season.  With the exception of The Bells -- seriously, the REP can drop its fascination with Theresa Rebeck -- nothing outright disappointed, but nothing roused me enough to tell others to check out the production.  I'd usually write my reviews as soon as I'd get home in hopes that maybe one person out there would say to themselves, "Maybe I should check out that production of Noises Off or A Midsummer Night's Dream or Wait Until Dark or The Glass Menagerie."  This season -- not so much.  I'm always happy to be afforded the opportunity to see plays I've heard so much about -- The Elephant Man, Waiting for Godot, Clybourne Park -- but had never seen even if they end up leaving me feeling lukewarm rather than captivated.  Still, here's hoping for a return to form with the 2017-18 season!

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