By Megan Pendagast
Westminster College of the Arts’ rendition of The Misanthrope is a witty, brilliantly acted take on Molière’s famous 1666 comedy helmed by associate professor of performing arts and veteran director Miriam Mills.
The play tells the story of the misanthrope in question, Alceste, portrayed by junior musical theater major Greg Clark, who in the opening scene expresses his intense distaste for humanity and his inability to overlook the flaws of the race.
His close friend and foil Philinte, played by junior theater major Dan Argese, argues that Alceste is too rigid and harsh in his judgments against people in general, but Alceste refuses to listen.
Alceste is renowned in his social circle for his frank character and refusal to kowtow to the social niceties expected of him. This bluntness gets him into trouble with a seemingly confident but truly insecure aspiring poet, Oronte, played by sophomore theater major Ethan Levy.
Despite Alceste’s professed aversion to the hypocrisies of polite society, he is besotted with a woman who embodies the aspects of the human condition that he disdains. The object of his affection is the vivacious and flirtatious Célimène, portrayed by senior theater major Madeline Calandrillo, whose kind and sincere cousin Eliante, played by junior theater major Tess Ammerman, also loves Alceste.
Philinte frequently states that Eliante has infinitely more worth than her faithless cousin, but Alceste cannot immediately see through the duplicity of his love. Philinte’s ability to see Eliante’s true worth contrasts with every other male in the play who pines for the engaging but indecisive Célimène.
The play not only criticizes French society in the 17th century, but it is also a study of love versus reason. Alcente expresses nothing but disdain for human failings but is himself subject to them, particularly in regards to Célimène. While he is widely respected for his fortitude, his inability to compromise is construed as a weakness, not a strength.
After juggling Alceste, Oronte and the marquises Acaste and Clitandre, played by sophomore musical theater majors Matt Fairlee and Sean Cackowski respectively, Célimène’s dishonesty comes to light with the prodding of a jealous, so-called friend named Basque, portrayed by freshman theater major Nicole Sheehan.
Philinte and Eliante are the most morally upstanding characters and both recognize the failings of the culture they live in. They also accept the importance of occasionally concealing the depth of their opinions in society for the sake of harmony.
The play is told entirely in verse, rendering it delightfully rhythmic. Though it is a comedy of manners and revolves almost entirely around dialogue, it is also fast-paced and incredibly witty. The cast manages to keep lines that were written in the 17th century fresh and lively. All of the actors spoke clearly and enunciated well.
Part of what makes The Misanthrope so engaging is the excellent banter and chemistry, most notably between the two male leads Clark and Argese. The actors play off of each other whenever they share the stage, exchanging expressions that seem unrehearsed and natural. The over-the-shoulder interactions between them in the first scene firmly establishes their friendship. This serves to make the viewer feel almost voyeuristic.
The set design was elegant but simple with a lavender motif. The lighting was warm and inviting, making the audience feel as though they are a part of the play.
The Misanthrope really draws the viewer in with its rapid-fire dialogue, lyrical tone and vivid characters. All of the named characters are distinct and interesting to watch.
The physical comedy, namely between Alcente and Philinte and the two marquises, Acaste and Clitandre, complements the rapier wit.
The characters’ reactions to absurdity are often as entertaining as the actual acts of comedy. Philinte’s pained expression as he listens to Alceste completely disregard social convention and insult Oronte’s sonnet makes for an amusing background event. The same goes for when Alceste is tortured by Célimène’s flirting with the marquises in front of him.
The Misanthrope is a highly entertaining and well-directed play that benefits from an engaging source material and a talented cast. It is playing in the Yvonne Theater from Feb. 27 to March 3 and tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens.
Additional reporting by Tara DeLorenzo
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Printed in the 3/1/13 edition