note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Alceste … Risher Reddick
Philinte … Joe Lanza
Celimene … Amber Gray
Eliante … Carly Cioffi
Oronte … Chris Frontiero
Acaste … Greg Hildreth
Clitandre … Bennett Leak
Arsinoe … Lauren Graczyk
Basque … Murisa Harba
Du Bois … Barton Jones
Officer / Servant … Edward Tournier
Servant … Cordelia Reynolds
Servant / Celimene Understudy … Elizabeth Kiernan
Boston University’s Department of Fine Arts kicks off its theatre season with a near-sparkling production of Molière’s witty, melancholic masterpiece, THE MISANTHROPE. Earlier this year I was saddened by the graduation of some talented B.U. actors and, save for Chinasa Ogubuagu, they have all left the area (I felt not unlike Wilbur the Pig in CHARLOTTE’S WEB, watching Charlotte’s children sailing off to spin their webs elsewhere), but those students who performed in last year’s shadows have now stepped into the sun; I’m happy to report that much of THE MISANTHROPE’s cast is also worth banging a drum about --- especially Amber Gray, a classical actress in the making.
What a troubling comedy THE MISANTHROPE is! Alceste, a gentleman of the French court, endlessly rails against the artificial, backstabbing society surrounding him; his well-meaning criticism alienates friends, wins enemies and forces him to renounce Celimene, who loves him in her own fashion but is very much a player in their two-faced world (Alceste is contrasted with the rational Philinte, who views Man as flawed and accepts Life’s little compromises). Molière’s contemporaries knew not what to make of THE MISANTHROPE; to them, their targeted society was irreproachable and dismissed Alceste as a buffoon, mad as Don Quixote (Molière himself, to be on the safe side, played the role as such); modern productions lean towards a somber, almost tragic, slant with Alceste as an anti-hero. Douglas Mercer sets his production in our own times --- substituting dance-club society for Molière’s court --- his interpretation (dark, decadent and a bit druggy) works surprisingly well --- his Alceste has good reason to bemoan what the world has become.
Mr. Mercer’s student cast speaks Molière’s verse in a nimble, relaxed manner --- Ranjit Bolt’s translation is also contemporary, with a few expletives thrown in --- perhaps Molière, not Shakespeare, is a better introduction to playing the classics (his arias are lean, direct, and purple-free; the rhyming patterns shape both the deliverance and the deliverer). At first I found Risher Reddick’s Alceste to be rather odd, full of character but all blustery voice and crouched stance, but I warmed to his interpretation: his Alceste is a near-rustic with a farmer’s blunt speech (lending credibility to his yearning to go live in the wild), his casual suit becoming ever more rumpled as he becomes ever more frantic --- out of place among the exquisites, he could use the court influence he throws away in the name of Honesty. At play’s end, as he saddens and deepens in his brought-upon corner, all Mr. Reddick lacks is a skull in his hands (‘tis said that THE MISANTHROPE is Molière’s HAMLET --- now I can see why). Amber Gray, whom I last saw in the ensemble of B.U.’s most excellent VENUS, now shows what she can do with a leading role and a classically-trained voice. Slight and feline, her shifting Celimene smiles and purrs and curls up in the production’s lap as Alceste runs bow-wow circles around her; when cornered, she pounces with wit as sharp as tiger claws. Ms. Gray’s maturing voice, clearly meant for Shakespeare, is so musically inflected and controlled that she makes verse the preferred mode of speech; as directed and garbed, her Celimene is enough of a New Wave slut --- a Sally Bowles for today --- that Mr. Reddick’s Alceste must be truly infatuated if he cannot see the writing on her wall. Chris Frontiero, Greg Hildreth and Bennett Leak are very funny as a stock trio of eye-rolling fops; Joe Lanza and Carly Cioffi as the Nice Ones and Lauren Gracyzk as the Bitch may come off as flat-footed but never stumble, and Barton Jones plays Alceste’s servant in jock female drag --- a servant, no doubt, hired by Alceste for being true to his inner self.