What lies beneath the laughs?

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The Actors Gang performs Moliere's "Tartuffe" in new venue at Ivy Substation in Culver City.

Culver City has provided a new venue for the talented members of The Actors’ Gang, luring them away from Hollywood. In a sold-out performance at the Ivy Substation on Saturday evening, the troupe presented Moliere’s timeless 1664 tirade against religious hypocrisy, “Tartuffe.” Their version of the play calls upon the form of commedia dell arte in which the actors wear masks or whiteface while gesticulating wildly.

The center of attention in the first act is the patriarch Orgon, whose espousal of the “saintly” Tartuffe arouses the anger of his entire family, with the exception of his mother.

This is played out vociferously with the characters bouncing about and creating havoc among themselves. Orgon, as played brilliantly by P. Adam Walsh, is a masked creature with a long black nose who slithers and glides across the stage, using his hands as dexterously as a ballet dancer. Although the character Tartuffe does not appear until the next act, all the conversation revolves around him.

Orgon is besotted with Tartuffe, believing him to be godly and pious. He fails to believe the members of his family who beg him to recognize that the man is an imposter and a hypocrite. Nonetheless, Orgon plans to marry off his daughter to Tartuffe and to disinherit his son in favor of the scoundrel. Played as broadly as possible, the comedy allows each actor to accrue his or her share of laughs.

Finally, in the second act, Tartuffe himself arrives and a smarmy, sniveling oaf he turns out to be, as played by Andrew Wheeler. Only when Orgon witnesses Tartuffe’s attempt to seduce his wife does he realize how foolish he has been.

The cast is uniformly excellent, playing for laughs and enduring much physical pain. Deserving credit are Lindsley Allen, Simon Anthony, Angela Berliner, Matt Huffman, Lorenzo Gonzalez, Mark Lewis, Mary Eileen O’Donnell, Chris Schultz, Anna Sommer, Nancy Stone and Sabra Williams. Weston Walls provided percussion sound effects where needed. The sets by Sibyl Wickersheimer were serviceable, while the costumes by Ronda Dynice Brooks were all beautifully contrived.

This production, as adapted by David Ball and directed by Jon Kellam, is clever, imaginative and vastly amusing. Eventually, however, the horseplay becomes tiresome and the second act could use some cutting. Much of the irony is lost in the translation.