Performing the works of Molière is an irresistible carrot for any theatre company, and a particularly daunting task for an American one. That intrinsically French sensibility of tragedy veiled through comedy is an elusive concept to most Americans, and almost invariably American companies resort to a reverentially serious or wildly slapstick approach, neither of which serve Moliére, the company, or their audiences. (The English have their problems too - even Sir Peter Hall couldn't quite pull it off with his 1998 West End staging of The Misanthrope, starring a spectacularly miscast Elaine Page.)
How delightful then that the Boomerang Theatre Company production of The Misanthrope, under the crisply intelligent direction of Blake Lawrence, caught that playful sense of rue that bubbles like acid throughout Molière's 17th-century masterpiece. Incredibly well-cast, beautifully paced, and sumptuously designed, it came as close to an evening at the Comedie Francaise as possible here in New York.
The performances were uniformly excellent, full of style, wit and depth. As Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, Trevor Jones captured the soul of Molière's most fully realized character; if Alison Caldwell's vocal technique is not as polished as it could be, she nevertheless did not let it get in the way of her winning interpretation of the charmingly duplicitous Celimene. Tory Shaeffer was terrifically dry as Alceste's friend Philinte, Erika Bailey was a spikier-than-usual Eliante, Ellen Reilly had a nastily delightful field day with Arsinoe, and Jay Aubrey was a riot of color, bluff, and manner as Oronte.
Marisa Lowenstein's sky-blue and green unit set for the three shows in rep at Boomerang was augmented with simple ivory garden furniture and potted plants that gave the show an elegant, 17th-century feel, and allowed Orondava Mumford's dazzling period costumes to dominate with their lush colors and fabrics. Daniel Ordower lighted the whole affair with an admirable restraint, using gold gels and bright white light with a simple but effective effervescence.
The Misanthrope is unquestionably Molière's masterpiece, a work that is devastating in both its wit and ever-fresh portrait of humanity. Blake Lawrence and Boomerang Theatre did the work proud, while in the process setting a standard for performing Molière that will be hard to beat.
(Also featuring Brett Douglas, Ian Pfister, Darrel Stokes, and Casey Weaver. Costume assistant: James Deanes.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita