The Sojourner Theatre, which arrived a year ago in the Portland area, has just opened a new work on the text of Tartuffe. Tartuffe is the classic piece of Moliere that exposes the power of irrational belief and hypocrisy. The director's style is faithful to the rhythmic text of Moliere, yet jumps often into dance performance. The costumes, sets and lighting are minimal, while dialogue and action take the center of the stage. The acting is superb.
The story follows a devoutly religious man possessing no money, yet the man descants with a sure voice and flowers a sweet answer to everything. This devout man manages to hold the father and the grandmother under his mesmerizing charm, while the rest of the family cannot stomach him. The religious fellow also has certain feelings for the wife of the father. The hypocrite, called Tartuffe, manages to mix himself into the tangled web of a well to do family, which causes serious consequences. The direction has written a twist to the plot though, which flows outside the sacred text of Moliere; it hurls a blow to the final act. It is an ending that threw the entire audience into an erect position.
The story of Moliere is a universal one, and has been seen throughout history. One cannot forget the sinister affectations of Rasputin, "the mad monk," on the Romanov royality in Russia. His violent death was one of the catalysts to the Russian Revolution. The Sojourn Theater's direction also takes these themes into account. Whether it is the religious zealout at war with humanity, or the superpatriot who attacks any deviation from the mob. These relevant issues are addressed in the work. The themes of fanaticism, unquestioned belief, false love, charismatic power and violence, erupt throughout the performance. After the harrowing finale, many audience members discussed their feelings with the director. Good theater brings this out from an audience. Theater can entertain, or it can entertain and provoke.
The Sojourn Theatre has performed various works within its first one year period in Portland. The first one, "Cities on a Hill," dealt with the issues of identity, ethnicity and racism. The other important work, performed last spring, exposed the public to the issues of justice and freedom. The theatre has been heavily involved in collecting stories from many of the marginalized people in our local community. Their ideas for performances come from this form of communication. Originally coming from Virginia, the Sojourn represents the continuation of provocative theater, with its genesis in the Living Theatre, Bertolt Brecht's and its 60's incarnation, and working in the mode of the Theater of the Absurd. Portland should be grateful that such artists have decided to open their work to the community. Tartuffe is currently showing at the Echo Theater on 37th and SE Hawthorne.