Tuesday, February 12, 2008
A mismanaged Misanthrope
Just a few words on the production of "The Misanthrope" that closed at the New Rep last weekend. I've never seen Molière’s (at left) supposed magnum opus work on stage (the play's brilliantly perceptive, but its thin plot and somewhat static oratory work against it), and alas, I still haven't, although the New Rep production was intermittently amusing, and did afford some sympathetic insights into the play's mismatched central couple. Director Adam Zahler updated the text to the belle epoque, but offered little apparent justification for the change (oddly, the play feels like a better fit for the present day), and didn't really deliver much authentic period atmosphere: the set was lovely, but looked more like a soda fountain than a boulevard hotel, and the costumes were similarly cartoonish. The astringent wit which one associates with the play was likewise replaced with well-meant buffoonery. James Lloyd Reynolds brought a good deal of technique to bear on the eponymous Alceste, Molière’s honest man in a world of hypocrisy, but somehow never conjured much sympathy for his plight (or his eventual undoing). Meanwhile Amy Russ was both too mature and too hearty a presence to convince as his sparkling, but possibly vacuous, beloved - and in concert with the antics of Jason Bowen and Karl Baker Olson, she managed to produce little of the play's requisite malicious fizz. There were still some good moments, however, mostly from Steven Barkhimer's philosophical Philinte, Billy Meleady's nimble Oronte, Ellen Colton's broad, but still appealing Arsinoe, and (especially) Zillah Glory's sweet, sadly wise Eliante. The translation was a new one, by Constance Congdon, which sounded, at first blush, like a slangy update of Richard Wilbur's celebrated version. I'm not sure Congdon won me over, but I'd be interested to hear more from her; she's also done The Imaginary Invalid and Tartuffe - the times seem ripe for either. Anyone? Anyone?