Overall, what a delightful performance!
note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Carl A. Rossi
Alceste … James Lloyd Reynolds
Célimème … Amy Russ
Philinte … Steven Barkhimer
Acaste … Jason Bowen
Arsinoe … Ellen Colton
Eliante … Zilah Glory
Oronte … Billy Meleady
Clitandre … Karl Baker Olson
Du Bois; Basque; Guard … Nathaniel L. Shea
I am a purist when it comes to period plays but admit that some can time-travel better than others; Molière’s problem-comedy THE MISANTHROPE is one of them: Alceste, a gentleman of the French court, rails against the glittering, backstabbing society surrounding him; his criticism alienates friends, wins enemies and forces him to renounce Célimène, who loves him but is very much a player in their two-faced world (Alceste is contrasted with Philinte, who views Man as flawed and Life as an ever-evolving philosophy). Adam Zahler sets his New Repertory production in the Paris of the Belle Epoque where it plays swimmingly in its new environment though Rafael Jaen’s dresses appear to be corset-free, allowing too much range in terms of movement and breath control. Mr. Zahler occasionally resorts to physical fussiness to remind his audience that, oui, this is a comedy and keeps Eliante, Célimène’s own foil, in the shade instead of allowing her a few moments in the (downstage) sun --- one may wonder why this remote woman is meant to be the preferred choice --- and when Alceste topples over a chess game, everyone cautiously steps over the pieces, ever afterwards; how distracting, especially when a servant is always at hand with whisk broom and toolbox!
But, overall, what a delightful performance! James Lloyd Reynolds makes a handsome, dapper Alceste, nimble and breathtaking in his operatic snits --- what would a less-twitty portrayal from him be like? --- still, Mr. Reynolds could easily make the transition from cravats back to doublet and hose, as is. Amy Russ is too hoydenish as Célimène but even a corset could not rein in her declaiming style which alternates between the saloon and the nursery (and this, a supposed lady of the court!) --- if love makes Mr. Reynold’s Alceste blind, the others would surely have exposed his beloved far sooner than far later. How good to see Steven Barkhimer showcase his gentle side as Philinte, to see Ellen Colton play a true grande dame instead of yet another tenement one, and to be reacquainted with Billy Meleady whom I’ve not seen for several seasons --- his Oronte is the most Molière-like contribution, balanced between artificial comedy and shrewd human commentary. ‘Tis good to have him back.