The Misanthrope is a play that deals with the consequences of truth and hypocrisy in our lives. A Restoration comedy? In period, yes. But the new production of Moliere's play, now playing at the Jean Cocteau Repertory, gets the message across more than the laughs.
The meaning, however, is not insignificant. The show's new translation, by Rod McLucas (who also directed), makes the play's story quite simple to understand. Alceste (Christopher Black) is fed up with the insincere nature of societal interaction, and has decided to be completely honest with everyone he speaks with. Of course, his problems are truly just beginning, as his views are not generally shared by any of his friends.
The Misanthrope is an interesting play, though it's difficult to consider it one of Moliere's funniest. McLucas, who also directed, knows just what how to make the story behind the play clear. He is less successful at bringing out the natural humor in the material. In fact, in terms of his specific direction, there seems to be few laughs to be found. What humor there is seems to come from the basic performances of the cast.
Black's role is the largest and most significant, and he handles certain parts of it, particularly the frustration, adeptly, though he seems less comfortable in the warmer, more intimate moments. As Alceste's beloved Celimene, Angela Madden is appropriately upright and stuffy, if also less capable of softening when necessary. Jason Crowl, as a foil to Alceste, is quite funny.
The other two women in the cast, Jennifer Herzog as Eliante, Celimene's cousin, and Elise Stone as Arsinoe, a friend of Celimene's fair much better, bringing much needed warmth to their roles, and the play. Herzog, especially, seems to bring the scenes in which she appears back to reality.
Though the play is written in rhyming couplets, most of the actors are generally able to handle it well. Only one has particular difficulty, Tim Deak, in the smaller role of Philinte, Alceste's friend. Too often, he plays into the couplets' rhymes more than their meaning, resulting in a sing-songy sound to most of his lines.
The costumes, by Robin I. Shane, are comical and colorful, swathing each character in related hues that make them instantly recognizable. The set design, by Robert J. Martin, is quite simple, consisting primarily of curtains in three different colors that adorn the room. They, in concert with the stage, which is painted with a very striking pattern, provide a well-appointed backdrop for the action.
If McLucas's interpretation of The Misanthrope does not provide all the laughs other translations do, it provides nearly every bit of the meaning. If you wish to expose yourself to one of Moliere's more serious, thought-provoking plays, you will most likely not be able to do better in the foreseeable future than the production at the Jean Cocteau Repertory. The laughs, however, will mostly have to wait.