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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Misanthrope

I fall into deep gloom and melancholy
When I survey the scene of human folly,
Finding on every hand base flattery,
Injustice, fraud, self-interest, treachery. . .
Ah, it's too much; mankind has grown so base,
I mean to break with the whole human race
---Alceste to his friend Philinte who's more tolerant of society's rules of politeness.

Kate Jennings Grant  &  David Atkins
Kate Jennings Grant & David Atkins
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
While the Berkshire summer 2004 theater season has had some misses as well as hits, it has undoubtedly unveiled some of the most breathtakingly beautiful productions I've seen in a while. If there were a contest to select the most splendid of them all the Berkshire Theatre Festival's last Main Stage offering, a revival of Moliere's The Misanthrope, would certainly be a major contender.

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.

Tom Story and James Barry
Tom Story and James Barry
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Alsceste is not an easy part to play -- full of sound and fury, desperately trying to reconcile his outrage with his passion for the beautiful but incorrigibly flirtatious Célimène. David Adkins manages to make him at once sympathetic and laughable. Kate Jennings Grant's Câlimène is a bit too cool and modern yet in the end that cool reserve works well to underscore the masterful directorial touch that rings down the curtain on a striking image of the unbridgeable distance between the lovers. That final scene is a bookend to the opening which has the subsidiary fops and flirts making their first appearances as if seated in a box in Moliere's own theater. Once this silent "audience" moves center stage, they become the foppish, gossipy representatives of the society skewered by Moliere's pen. These society types include three noblemen who would be as at home at a drag ball than as suitors in Câlimène's salon (Gerry McIntyre as the over the top, doggerel spouting Oronte, and James Barry and Tom Story). Joining them in their eventual outrage at Câlimè's unwittingly publicized truth telling letter, is Karen McDonald as the two-faced but very funny Arsinoe.

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
Heartbreak House

Playwright: Moliere (pronounced mohl-yair -- real name, Jean Baptiste Poquelin) Director: Anders Cato
Cast: David Adkins (Alceste), Kate Jennings Grant (Celimene), Karen MacDonald (Arsinoe), Gerry McIntyre (Oronte), Jonathan Kay (Guard), James Barry (Glitandre), Tara Franklin (Eliante), Brian Sell (Dubois), Andrew Michael Neiman (Basque), Steven Petrarca (Philinte), Tom Story (Acaste).
Scenic Design: Carl Sprague
Costume Design: Olivera Gajie
Lighting Design Matthew E. Adelson
Original Music and Sound Design: Scott Killian
Berkshire Theatre Festival Main Stage, Route 7, Stockbridge, 413-298-5576
August 17, 2004 to September 4, 2004; opens on August 18th
Monday through Saturday at 8 pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2 pm.
Tickets range in price from $35 to $62. (Year Round Berkshire Residents with ID can purchase Two-For-One tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings; Students with ID are half price. Rush tickets at half price available 30 minutes prior to performance).
Review by Elyse Sommer based on August 19th performance
deb and harry's wonderful things -  crafts .  yarns

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