note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey
The New Repertory Theatre’s nifty, new production of THE MISANTHROPE (thru Feb. 10th) updates the comedy to France’s Belle Epoch, when mores and culture (not to mention the paintings in Audra Avery’s chic set) were turned on their heads. Moliere’s timeless masterpiece could fit any age, with its hilarious indictment of hypocrisy and colorful cast of gossips, fashionistas and sycophants.
Constance Congdon’s hip, new version (from a literal translation by Virginia Scott) keeps the traditional rhymes (“How can we live another hour/ When pretense has such power!”) but adds sparkling bons mots, rhyming ‘self-indulgent’ with a cheeky choice like ‘fulgent.’ The wordplay is such fun, that you may find yourself anticipating the marvelous rhymes---which is just one of the many guilty pleasures of the New Rep production.
Director Adam Zahler’s charming surprises punctuate every scene. (I’m still giggling, remembering an array of elegantly executed sight gags.) I won’t spoil them for you---as Moliere says, “It’s delicate, this business of critique”---but I will guarantee you’ll find them admirably clever and oh, so droll.
James Lloyd Reynolds is such a thoroughly dejected misanthrope that he literally drapes himself across the furniture and floor, so heavy is his disenchantment with the world. Clutching his side when the gall rises from its bladder at every insult to “honesty and truth,” the poor man can barely cope with his Weltschmertz.
Adding insult to injury, Amy Russ, as the effervescent object of his affection, seems to thrive on society. She lacerates what’s left of his dignity with an almost feminist zeal. She can give anyone as good as she gets and her power to shred is so exhilarating that I didn’t want her to capitulate, even when comeuppance was clearly due.
Zillah Glory, as the exact opposite, and cousin, of the frivolous heart breaker, gives a performance so luminous that you can see the light radiate from her face. Steven Barkhimer gives the ‘best friend’ role a little ironic wink and Jason Bowen struts away with the laughs as the sharp suited, self-confidant suitor. Over-the-top territory is inhabited by comedians Billy Meleady (with a show stopping windup and delivery of a poem), Ellen Colton (as the vengeful, aging coquette), Karl Baker Olson (as the smarmy, finger pointing courtier) and Nathanael L. Shea as everyone else.
In the spirit of the meter, I ask you: “Who could be vicious/ To a play this delicious?” Certainly not I.