Tartuffe

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Through Aug. 3. Tickets are $15-$25; visit www.african-americanshakes.org.
Buriel Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton (between Webster and Laguna), S.F.

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The 17th-century comedy Tartuffe—probably the best-known of Molière's plays—was a controversial sensation in its day, and it retains much of its power to mock both the amorally pious and those who fall for them. The title character (Vernon D. Medearis) is a religious hypocrite who fleeces a rich man named Orgon (Abbie Rhone) despite the wise protestations of Orgon's family. Unfortunately, this African-American Shakespeare Company production gives audience members almost no chance to discover the play's subtle pleasures for themselves. First off, director Sherri Young tosses out Molière's original rhymed couplets and opts instead for a fast-and-loose prose translation by Charles Edward Pogue. That might have resulted in a fresh and lively show, but Young stages the action too broadly and lets the actors get away with far too much mugging. Combine that with an unusually high volume of line flubs on opening night, and you have a show that values obvious pratfalls at the expense of language. The production might have taken a few more cues from the playwright: As a satirist who enjoyed controversy, Molière himself would have been first to say that you really can be too eager to please.

 
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