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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Elyse Sommer
Set designer Carl Sprague has recreated the elegant, all style and no substance Parisian social scene that prevailed at the end of thirty years of a bloody religious war with enormous flair. Our first image is a scrim curtain depicting a map of the two hemispheres of a world now dominated by Louis XIV, the Sun King. When lit, the first image gives way to a Parisian salon scene which gains additional visual depth by way of smoky glass windows through which the players in this satire of excessive etiquette and superficiality can be seen and heard. Olivera Gajic's lush and witty costumes and Scott Killian's harpsichord dominated music further enrich this mouthwateringly beautiful and apt aura of the empty society Moliere satirized.
Before you get the wrong impression, let me hasten to say that there's a lot more to this production other than that it looks terrific. Even though the set changes are choreographed so wittily that the action between scenes is as entertaining as the play, director Anders Cato has seen to it that the stagecraft enhances and enchants -- but never at the expense of Moliere's uncanny ability to create characters who make us laugh even as they stir the mind to more sobering thoughts.
As with his excellent Heartbreak House, Cato, unlike directors with a penchant for modernizing classics, has managed to evoke the play's relevancy for today's audiences while remaining true to the playwright's time frame and essence. Richard Wibur's superb verse translation, which suits Cato's directing style admirably, insures that we never lose sight of the richness of Moliere's satire -- not only of the men and women whose emphasis on etiquette masks insincerity, but of the misanthropic Alceste whose own moral outrage at their hypocrisies is flawed by his humorless, self-righteous egotism. (In this election season, Alceste's self-righteousness is likely to evoke thoughts of Ralph Nader; the obsession with trivialities is not too different from campaign reporting that focuses on wives' hairdos and manners rather than the candidates' proposals for governing).
While there have been countless prose as well as verse translations, poet Wilbur's has justifiably been credited as the one that best retains the musicality of Moliere's verse, that balances lofty and ordinary talk, and serves both the thoughtful and shallow characters. Under Cato's careful direction, the actors speak the crisp, rhymed dialogue with naturalness and ease.
Steven Petrarca gives a nicely understated performance as Alceste's friend Philinte, the play's one character who's able to fit into the mannered society while retaining his decency and without feeling compromised. Tara Franklin as Câlimène's cousin Eliante, doesn't have much to do except look lovely, which she does.
Like Blues for An Alabama Sky, which opened the Main Stage season and never pulled in the audience it deserved, the third night into the run of this production had its share of empty seats. Maybe theater goers looking for lite theatrical fare are put off by the tags " classic" and "verse play." The Misanthrope is entertaining and fun and those verses make for delightful easy listening.
you'll want to savor Wilbur's witty and true to Moliere verse after you leave the theater, so if it's in your library already, check out the following link to an inexpensive paperback of both Misanthrope and Tartuffe here .
Review of Martin Crimp's sassy adaptation of The Misanthrope
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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