A River Oaks woman with her legs over her head on a table? It's all part ofPamela Vogel's act
Classical Theatre Company's (CTC) production of Moliere's Tartuffe (now playing at the Barnevelder Theater through April 18), feels more than a bit timely with the Catholic Church in free fall. Funny how things don't change much when it comes to belief and money.
Moliere got himself into a whole heap of trouble when the play premiered in 1664. The Archbishop of Paris censored the play and threatened excommunication to anyone who watched. Imagine that. Moliere's classic comedy follows the bamboozlement of patriarch Orgon by a religious nut, Tartuffe. CTC artistic director John Johnston has updated the Richard Wilbur and Maya Slater translations, setting the play in Houston's River Oaks in April, of all months.
Pamela Vogel, Houston's newest member of the acting community, plays Elmire, the wife of Orgon, and the one who finally exposes Tartuffe's hypocrisy. Vogel, a recent Chicago transplant, wowed audiences in Wit at the Texas Repertory Theatre and in Southern Rapture at Stages Repertory Theatre.
Vogel talks with CultureMap about everything from Tartuffe to searching for deep-dish pizza in Houston.
CM: Tartuffe is one play with staying power. What gives?
PV: This play is in continual production all the time everywhere. Its roots are in the corruption of the French Catholic Church and the royal court of the 17th Century. The basis of the play is that we believe what we want to believe. We will do anything to continue to protect our beliefs. It doesn't matter if it's true or not.
Tartuffe has given Orgon such a peace of mind that he's ready to give up his wife, his family and his wealth. People love to have someone to tell them what to do. Tartuffe provides him with a certain freedom, such that he doesn't see what's happening before his eyes. Tartuffe puts the candlesticks right into his briefcase and Orgon doesn't see it. Elmire's brother Cleante (played by Ted Doolittle) has a great line that says it all, "There's just one thing I want to claim, that true and false are not the same."
So considering what's going with the Catholic Church right now, mega church scandals, and our current politics, it's a highly relevant piece.
CM: The play has such momentum, things go from bad to worse. Everything anybody does to make things better makes things worse, until it spirals into an utter disaster. Elmire has the game changing scene where she reveals to her husband, hiding under the table, that he has been hoodwinked. It's a pretty racy scene, in that she is nearly raped. Orgon sure takes his time saving the day. Talk about that scene and however did Orgon disappear from under the table? Did Barnevelder dig a trap door for CTC?
PV: I am not going to answer that (trapdoor part). It's a magic trick and you will just have to come and see for yourself. As for the scene, it's exhausting and yes, there is a tremendous momentum. But remember that Elmire is not immune to Tartuffe. Yes, she is at the top of her game but Tartuffe keeps changing the game. She cleverly gets Tartuffe to leave the room because she knows that Orgon will not admit he's been wrong in front of Tartuffe.
CM: You played Elmire while in graduate school at the University of Southern Carolina. What's it like to return to the role?
PV: It's always a pleasure to return to a role and attack it all again but with more ease. Also, I am in my 40s now, so the part matches up with me better. Back then, it was a full-on period piece. Elmire was very much a china doll, graceful and beautiful. She stood still with minimal movement, except for that one scene where she ends up on the table with her legs over her head. This version is so different. John Johnston has done a marvelous job with his adaptation, especially setting it in River Oaks. Of course, I had to learn what River Oaks is all about.
He has taken the Brit speak and Englishness out. It's less posh, and not too precious for American ears. It's subtle, but the text is cleaner and clearer.
CM: You left a thriving scene in Chicago. How's the transition to Houston going?
PV: There are 200 small theaters in Chicago. It's huge. Live theater is just a way of life there. Competition for roles and teaching jobs is intense. After doing Wit at Texas Rep, and teaching in their summer program, I decided I could live here. As soon as I did, I had two offers. That just blew my mind. It's great to be in Houston right now with so many new groups forming. To be working at the Classical Theater Company is a dream come true. This is where my heart is and it's thrilling for me to be working with the cast of Tartuffe.
John has a real niche here in Houston. Chicago is saturated with classical theater troupes. Texas Rep is another home for me and I hope to be developing their educational program as well. This is an exciting time in Houston for theater and being in this play has been a total joy.
CM: What do you do in your non-theater life? Do you have a non-theater life? How are you surviving without Chicago pizza?
PV: Well I suppose theater has taken over my life, but I do have a passion for health food, so Houston is great place to be. I am discovering new healthy places to eat everyday. I used to be an answer lady at a heath food store and I found it great relief from auditioning. Although, I have to switch my cooking style to more of a hot-weather menu. I am interested in the difference between real food and things that are not food.
I have yet to find Chicago-style pizza here. It's amazing, four inches, just crazy. I will keep on the lookout.