Honesty is the best policy

The Misanthrope

By MoliÀre
Directed by Yvonne Opffer Conybeare
Gallery Players
199 14th St., Brooklyn (718/595-0547)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 13)
Review by Charles Battersby

The Misanthrope was written as a satire of 18th-century French society, yet it seems at times that MoliÀre wrote this play especially for Americans 300 after his time. MoliÀre's hapless, defiant protagonist could be railing against the mandatory lying policy of any American business, friendship, or romantic relationship. Sympathy and pathos are still heaped upon the misanthropic Alceste, whose protests of humanity's perfunctory falseness and hypocrisy echo the inner voice that everyone hears at times.

Despite the fact that Alceste (Andrew Firda) vows to only tell the truth and encourages others to do the same, he still loves a woman who embodies all the qualities he hates. The beautiful, fickle, acid-tongued Celimene (Jenni Tooley) is a backstabber of epic proportions who has ensnared not only Alceste but a swarm of other suitors. These men gather in Celimene's garden one afternoon, and Alceste wages a verbal war against dishonesty that ends with mixed results.

This particular translation, by Richard Wilbur, is incredible; not only has he captured the feel of the play's time and setting (his translation was published in 1955), but it's also entirely in rhyming verse! That MoliÀre guy who wrote the original French version ain't too bad either.

The set, by Michael Kramer, was miraculous. The play is set in an 18th-century French garden, and Kramer managed to stuff a whole garden onto an Off-Off Broadway stage, complete with stone archways, a well, walls for wacky servants to hide behind, and half-a-dozen entrances for MoliÀre's characters to use when they storm out in a huff. And the whole thing was constructed of an authentic stone-like material.

The costumes were gorgeous, and so was the cast (you could hardly throw a brick at the stage without its bouncing off someone's cleavage). Aside from being beautiful, the costumes were also authentic period outfits, which did more than just look pretty, as each one perfectly suited the personality of its wearer. The deliciously foppish Acaste (Colin Pritchard) and Clitandre (Evangelos Alexiou) were wonderfully over-dressed. Celimene, the object of everyone's affection was radiant in pink, and the straightforward Alceste was distinctly dressed down (for an 18th-century French nobleman).

Music was provided by a live pianist (Jonathan Kramer) who played period chamber music. The script did not warrant the use of any sound effects and Kramer's music was precisely suited to the atmosphere of the show.

Because the play's ten characters are constantly entering, exiting and lounging about the entire garden, the play used one lighting scheme which kept the whole stage glowing. There was little need for variety and Johnathan T Dunkle's lighting design did its job.

The cast was up to the challenge of spouting off the rapid-fire rhyming banter (it's hard to improvise verse if you flub a line), and much fun was had with MoliÀre's wit. Director Yvonne Opffer Conybeare is to be commended for put all these pieces together so masterfully.

(Also featuring Christopher Johnson, John Blaylock, Susan Woods, Dana Bennison, Ron Nahass, and Heather Siobhan Curran.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby