Mauckingbird's "The Misanthrope'

3 minute read
758 misanthrope
Fresh life for Molière, through a gay prism


By the time the two fops start gossiping about the gay men at court in The Mauckingbird Theatre Company production of Molière’s The Misanthrope, the audience members already know they’re in deep gay cultural camp. The audience knows the actors may be saying “she” but mean “he.” Call it court castration by pronoun.

Director Peter Reynolds transports 17th Century French society into a mixed-era gay ruling class— not for easy laughs but to puncture stereotypes and sharpen Molière’s venomous indictment of the falsehoods in human relationships, straight or gay.

Molière’s script is punctuated with arias about societal hypocrisies that are as timely as ever. From the opening disco Vivaldi music to the fouffy vests, cravats and floor-length satin robes (all witty costume designs by Marie Anne Chiment), this frantic 90- minute interpretation has everything going for it.

Crackling dialogue, without self-consciousness

Reynolds uses Ranjil Bolt’s sleek translation of Molière, in which the dialogue cycles around rhyming couplets but the actors keep it out of a hammered-out cadence. In fact this dialogue crackles without being self-conscious: The actors let it pitch and fall like natural dialogue— no small feat, and a credit to Reynolds and the troupe’s vocal coach Lynne Innerst.

This Misanthrope works both as over-the-top gay soufflé and as a dishy Molière comedy that revels in character and literary satire. The ripeness of Molière’s dialogue, combined with the skewering of socio-sexual mores through a gay prism, left me wishing some of our presidential candidates were sitting in the audience: They might learn a little something about gay life that doesn’t involve closet cases in sex scandals. Come to think of it, this production is completely outsized for the Adrienne Theater’s modest Second Stage.

Watch out, Valentino

Dito van Reigersberg, as Alceste, has moments of grand comedy, vocally and physically: When silent films return, he could be the next Valentino. Matching him gesture for gesture and wit for wit is Evan Jonigkeit as the smolderingly handsome, sarcastically aloof Célimène, whose shallowness reaches hilarious depths. Brian Cowden’s Oronte, the bad poet in smeary makeup and red-velvet waistcoat who is ruining Alceste’s life, is a comic nerve of puff and ire.

As for those fops, Clitandre (Josh I. Hitchens) and Acaste (Jerrell Henderson), they slyly play it straight, even though they look like Maude dressed in a macramé monstrosity and Antoine from Men on Film. This approach slyly transcends camp without undermining Molière’s eternal truths about human love and insincerity.

This robust pacing rescues this Misanthrope from the mummified quality of a theater-museum piece (so common in productions of, say, Wilde and O’Neill). Even though van Reigersberg is given star billing, the nine-man cast conveys the airy tightness of ensemble playing.

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