Review: The Misanthrope Politically correct in the 17th Century

The Misanthrope brings laughs and literature to The Hilberry.

Andrew Papa as Alceste and Vanessa Sawson and Célimène. Photo credit: Nikki Allen

Patty Nolan

Detroit Theater Examiner

This Examiner Rates The Misanthrope: 4 out of 5 stars

The original article may be found here.

With so many members of the media absorbed (self-absorbed?) by the ongoing debate regarding political correctness vs. rhetorical violence, we could take a page from the hero of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. Alceste despises all mankind, and especially the insincerity he sees everywhere. Better to tell the truth and benefit by it, he argues, than to mince words and wallow in phony courtesies.

Of course, 17th Century playwright Moliere was mocking the fashionable court of Louis XIV. We can only wonder what fun he would have skewering today’s politicians.

Fun is the operative word with the production of The Misanthrope that that just opened at The Hilberry Theatre. Directed by Jesse Merz, this show delights visually, intellectually, and at the most basic comic levels.

Merz uses the amazing translation by Tim Mooney – adapted for his own productions by Chicago’s Stage Two theatre – which delivers all Moliere’s mirth in the cleverest verse. The actors deliver the lines naturally enough, but at times pause significantly to allow the audience to anticipate and enjoy the inevitably crafty rhymes.

Edmund Alyn Jones as Clitandre, Vanessa Sawson as Célimène and Jordan Whalen as Acaste. Photo credit: Nikki Allen

Andrew Papa is irreproachable as Alceste, the misanthrope. He is in love, against his better judgment, with the beautiful but coquettish Célimène, played with great vivacity by Vannessa Sawson. Célimène seems to think that there is nothing wrong with society; in fact she represents everything Alceste despises. So do the other beaus vying for Célimène’s attentions – played with great hilarity by Alan Ball (Oronte), Jordan Whalen (Acaste), and Edmund Alyn Jones (Clitandre). Lorelei Sturm, as the seemingly pious, highly judgmental Arsinoé, is perfect as Célimène’s foil. As always, the small but juicy comic bits go to the servant classes – Jason Cabral (Basque), and Christopher Ellis (Du Bois) play these to the hilt. The only two sensible characters in the show are Alceste’s best friend Philinte and Célimène’s cousin, Éliante, played with sympathy and sincerity by Dave Toomey and Samantha Rosentrater.

Lovely scenic design (Michael Wilkki) and costumes (John D. Woodland) add to the sumptuous feel of this production. The production team also includes: Tara Westlake (Production Stage Manager), Mercedes Coley (Assistant Stage Manager), Jacee Rohlck (Assistant Scenic Designer), Brian Scruggs (Lighting Designer), Jonathan Weaver (Master Electrician), Jason Pratt (Sound Designer), Peter Schmidt (Technical Director), Rudy Schuepbach (Props Master), Michael Barnes (Voice and Speech Coach), Nira Pullin (Movement Coach), Michael Butterworth (Dramaturge), and Bobby Lima (Publicity Manager).

‘The Misanthrope’ runs in rotating repertory until March 5, 2011. Tickets are $25-$30 and are available online at www.hilberry.com, by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 313-577-2972, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Cass Ave. and Hancock.

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