‘Misanthrope’ first-rate production
It’s been more than 300 years since Molière’s play “The Misanthrope” first hit the stage in Paris, but a new production now playing at the Denver Center proves the playwright’s critique of social mores is as relevant as ever. In this first-rate production, director Nagle Jackson dusts off “The Misanthrope” and moves the action forward in time a century or so, to the early 19th century.Here, we find the title character Alceste already fulminating outside a party about the ludicrousness of polite society. Why, he poses to his friend Philinte, can’t he tell the truth at all times and damn the consequences?
When Alceste – played by Denver Center luminary Jamie Horton – begins to make good on his threat to tell the truth, it sets in motion a chain of events that result in his downfall. Despite the pleas of Philinte (Steven Cole Hughes) to play by the rules and make nice, Alceste fails his first test, when the stuffed-shirt military man Oronte (Bill Christ) is compelled to recite some execrable poetry looking for a few kind words. Alceste’s troubles extend also to a pending lawsuit, which Philinte suggests could be dispatched with a few words spoken into well-placed ears. But Alceste will have none of it, arguing that if the case can’t win on its own merits, he wants nothing to do with such a society.
Alceste also has the misfortune to be in love with Celimene, a woman a good deal younger than he whose primary goal is to surround herself with as many admirers as possible. Such a situation necessitates a certain patience and acceptance on the part of her courtiers, leaving Alceste in a pickle as he tries to reconcile that with his new philosophy of intolerance. This is a very busy play, with most of the action taking place in Celimene’s highly-trafficked bedroom.
Nagle employed the 1955 translation by Richard Wilbur, which is all in rhymed verse. This is no small feat for the actors or for the audience to comprehend, but it somehow seems appropriate that the actors trying to convey such convoluted emotions must also be constrained by such a form. Adding to the fun is the fact that Nagle cast the 23-year-old Ruth Eglsaer as Celimene “a role usually played by older women due to its complexity.” Since Horton is the kind of actor who can take up all the oxygen in the room, it’s a treat to see the fresh-faced Eglsaer matching him line for line, and the audience eats it up. “The Misanthrope” features a strong supporting cast, lavish costumes and a spare but suitable set in a typically top-notch Denver Center Theatre Company production. It may not be for everyone, but theater-goers willing to pay close attention for two hours will get an earful they won’t soon forget.
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