I should preface this with the biased disclaimer that even though I have sense become a lesbian, Raúl Esparza has been the love of my life since I was 14 years old. The one good thing to come out of this pandemic is that he has more of an online presence than ever before, and my feelings all flood back as I revert to that teenager screaming at the 2007 Tony Awards.
Most folks might recognize Esparza from his roles on television shows such as ADA Rafael Barba on Law and Order: SVU and Dr. Frederick Chilton on Hannibal (expect a piece about my Great Big Netflix Rewatch of that soon). But he got his start in the theatre, an avenue that is truly feeling the pangs of this current situation. Luckily, the theatre community has by no means given up, finding new and innovative ways to keep the art form alive.
Many professional theater companies have been releasing weekly streams of past performances. However, the true spirit of live performance shows best in productions such as Molière in the Park’s production of Tartuffe, Molière’s famous comedy about a hypocritical man using religion and gaslighting as means for power and control. Doesn’t sound relevant at all, right? Director Lucie Tiberghien knew the connection to our current climate when choosing the play.
Ezparza shines in the titular role, giving a performance that I can only describe as “unhinged.” It’s something this comedic role calls for, especially when breathing life into a 400-year-old text. I also enjoyed the genderblind casting of Samira Wiley as patriarch Orgon and thought her performance was a delight. Esparza and Wiley were the only recognizable names, but the entire cast was solid. I particularly appreciated Toccarra Cash as Orgon’s wife Elmire. The two funniest scenes were a back and forth between her and Esparza and she held her own against this force.
The virtual staging was clever. I’ve seen different methods of blocking and connection of virtual performances. For TARTUFFE, a general backdrop was used that blended in all the actors, who were arranged around the screen depending on their place in the scene. The funniest use was when Orgon was hiding under table, which was achieved by lowering Wiley’s position on the screen under a clip-art looking red table. I found the limited production value endearing. It reminded me of a low-budget black box performance where all you really needed were great performances.
You have until 2pm EST on July 1st to watch the performance on MIP’s website, but I got to entertain the full experience of the livestream. They even required a (free) ticket reservation on eventbrite in order to access the stream. The cast and crew even did a Q&A afterwards. I felt a thrilling shred of normalcy planning for an afternoon of live theatre, even if I would be watching in my comfy pants at home. I hope more theaters find ways like this to keep the art form alive and provide us all with entertainment as we stay the hell inside.