What better place for a modern resetting of Moliere's The Misanthrope than our current culture of celebrity? Martin Crimp's adaptation, getting its Los Angeles premiere by the Andak Stage Company, has Alceste raging against a world obsessed with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan -- and how can you not agree?
Indeed, in his early scenes, Nick Cagle's Alceste seems an admirable enough protagonist. While most people appear to be on the receiving end of his disapproval, his impassioned revulsion comes from a good enough place. He's intelligent, holds himself up to a high moral code, and simply expects honesty and honor from those around him. When others fail to live up to these ideals -- which appear to him to be easily-obtainable -- conflict results. He's like television's Dr. House -- he's indisputably an ass, but one who is undeniably fun to watch.
There are two people whom Alceste allows into his inner circle. One is his friend, John, a gentle soul who mediates between an angry Alceste and an unsuspecting world. Played by Daniel Reichert with infinite patience, John is a decent fellow who both accepts Alceste for what he is, and tries to keep him from antagonizing everyone he meets. And then there's Jennifer, an American flavor-of-the-month movie actress who has taken British playwright Alceste as her lover. Samantha Sloyan's Jennifer is, on first impression, sexy, modern, and flirty. Her appearance brings to mind a young Cameron Diaz, and she favors nearly everyone with a smile that seems to say, "we're the closest of friends." But she can also speak her mind as fearlessly as Alceste, and you can easily see where the two might connect on a fundamental level.
Things are fated for trouble between Alceste and Jennifer, as the otherwise-perceptive Alceste has a massive blind spot when it comes to Jennifer -- and when Jennifer seems equally happy surrounded by sycophants as she does alone with Alceste, our misanthropic anti-hero finds himself competing for Jennifer's attention against everything he detests.
Crimp's adaptation/translation is set firmly in the present and easy for modern audiences -- although the "in-joke" couplets referring to Moliere's original seem to be trying too hard. Director John DeMita keeps the traffic flowing apace -- group scenes where several people are talking at once sound extraordinarily true -- and it all builds to a thought-provoking conclusion. Dean Cameron's London hotel room set is perfectly realistic, and all the more impressive for being put together in a 35-seat theatre.
The bulk of the company is comfortable with the text in verse, without falling into sing-song meter -- indeed, it takes Alceste a good few minutes of opening tirade before you start noticing the rhymes. The quality isn't uniform, though. It ranges from Dakin Matthews, a fixture of the L.A. theatre scene, who speaks verse as though he was born doing it -- through Catherine Cavadini, who over-accentuates the rhymes, and whose British accent can't quite decide to what class she belongs. Overall, though, this is an extremely solid production of a modern version of a classic play.
The Misanthrope runs at NewPlace Studio Theatre through October 14, 2007. For information, see www.andak.org.
The Andak Stage Company @ NewPlace Studio Theatre presents Moliere's The Misanthrope. Version by Martin Crimp. Directed by John DeMita; Set by Dean Cameron; Costumes by Kim Deshazo; Lights by Peter Strauss; Video by Beta-Unit; Stage Manager Krista Schoenbaum.