A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes – review
Tricycle Theatre

Published: Thursday, October 15, 2015 5:10 PM | Review by: Lindsay Johns | Afridiziak Star Rating:
Adjoa Andoh (Peaches), Lucian Msamati (Toof) Photo by Mark Douet Adjoa Andoh (Peaches), Lucian Msamati (Toof) Photo by Mark Douet

Regardless of your religious convictions - be you a devout Christian or a militant non-believer, I defy you not to love this play and recognize it as a delicate comedy of human foibles, beautifully acted, with a warm, humane and thought-provoking message.

A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes by Marcus Gardley – an updating and re-locating of Molière’s classic satire on moral and religious hypocrisy Tartuffe to modern day black Atlanta – ranks as one of the most memorable and enjoyable nights at the theatre I have been privileged to experience in recent years.


With its trenchant anti-clerical message, ebullient, sassy badinage, mellifluous gospel music interludes and powerful, uber-topical denouement, this is a play for our times, one perennially relevant on so many levels.


With Molière’s original French alexandrine poetic metre updated in the main to English rhyming couplets (thereby allowing the banter and verbal one-upmanship to flow gracefully), the production is couched in the gloriously euphonic cadences of ebonics, luscious African-American idioms and steeped in fulminating church rhetoric. Moreover, the re-location to a black American, Southern mega-church milieu is an inspired and apposite choice, for which Gardley must be commended.


Lucian Msamati as Apostle Toof – the smooth-talking, fraudulent pastor with a penchant for the ladies who attempts to gull dying millionaire Mr. Organdy out of his fortune – is sensational. It is a consummate pleasure to watch an actor at the top of his game effortlessly mesmerize an audience.


With audacious guile, Toof is the incarnation of a hypocrite who under the cloak of religion insinuates himself into Organdy’s household with the express aim of acquiring his wealth. Religion for him is merely a means to an end, a tool for self-advancement and nothing to do with redemption or salvation.


Sharon D. Clarke (Lady Toof). Photo by Mark Douet Sharon D. Clarke (Lady Toof). Photo by Mark Douet

The contrast between Toof’s ostentatious piety and his weasel-like lust and venality is the essence of the comedy. Unscrupulous, sensual and covetous, he is both a sinister and a comic scoundrel, whose machinations serve to divide the family against themselves. With dazzling oratorical prowess, lyrical language and continuous verbal pyrotechnics, Toof is a dream role for Msamati’s gargantuan talents and he inhabits the part with stunning ease.


Likewise, the supporting cast are exceptional. Adjoa Andoh is tremendous as Peaches, the voluptuous former exotic dancer with a body made for sin, alluringly coquettish yet also somewhat moral and Sharon D.Clarke excels as Toof’s long suffering, genuinely religious wife, both sanctimonious and pure-hearted.


For all its farcical humour and painfully funny demolition of bourgeois African-American tropes (be it the strident homophobia of a father who cannot accept that his only son and heir is gay or the dreadlocked, dashiki-clad daughter having just returned from her “roots pilgrimage” to Africa, yet still ardently searching for her true identity), the play functions as a universal family drama of exceptional poignancy.


Yet A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes is also unafraid – both in the original French version and Gardley’s magisterial updating – to address the big, eternal questions at the heart of the human condition – faith versus reason, the place of carnality in human conduct, and of course, arguably the biggest of them all – is there a God?


Lucian Msamati (Toof) & Wil Johnson (Organdy). Photo by Mark Douet Lucian Msamati (Toof) & Wil Johnson (Organdy). Photo by Mark Douet

Theologically provocative and ontologically profound, the play culminates in a superbly acted soliloquy in which Toof asserts – with reference to contemporary shootings, police brutality and widespread injustice, that we live in a Godless universe and that we should adopt a philosophy of Machiavellian dissimulation to succeed, as opposed to belief in an impotent (if not non-existent) deity who is visibly deaf to human suffering.


A condemnation of those duped by hypocrites as much as of the hypocrites themselves, the play is throughout rich in human dignity and eloquent in its denunciation of vice and moral failings.


Masterfully directed by Indhu Rubasingham - and with exactly the right amount of reverence for a classic text, this production is a dazzling gem whose radiance deserves to be seen, let alone appreciated, far and wide. Combining finely balanced humour with serious thought, A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes is a laudable, hilarious and intensely moving offering. Gardley has without a doubt done Molière proud.


Regardless of your religious convictions - be you a devout Christian or a militant non-believer, I defy you not to love this play and recognize it as a delicate comedy of human foibles, beautifully acted, with a warm, humane and thought-provoking message.



Info: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes (see listing) is at the Tricycle Theatre until November 14, 2015 / book tickets



Related links

Angela Wynter – interview




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