WSU’s acting masters bring Moliere’s 17th-century classic comedy to the local stage
The Hilberry premiered Moliere’s The Misanthrope as the first play of the New Year and semester.
Hilberry regulars and French classicists, as well as people with a thesaurus and an ear for rhyme, will be delighted with this selection.
French-style theater is usually viewed as flamboyant, over-expressive and cliché, but the Hilberry decided to veer from this usual path.
The part of Alceste (Andrew Papa) was toned down and given a sense of humanism, as well as the part of Philinte (David Toomey). Papa seemed more passionate than all of the over-the-top characters, such as Oronte (Alan Ball) and fops Clitandre (Edmund Alyn Jones) and Acaste (Jordan Whalen).
The balance shines through and makes for some hilarious scenes, especially with Papa and Ball. The latter’s Oronte circles the stage with his hands high in the air, reading from his self-important sonnet. He is there to be in contrast with Alceste, and Ball delivered.
The fops are another important comedic element in The Misanthrope and are comparable to the jesters and clowns in Shakespeare’s comedies. Jones and Whalen donned powdery makeup and bright baggy clothing, as well as a hilarious falsetto voice. They attempted to hit every high octave possible, especially when brandishing their canes.
The most crucial piece of the puzzle, however, is the role of Celimene (Vanessa Sawson). The entirety of the play hinges on her responses, glances and expressions, and Sawson nailed it. She is just as dismissive and ignorant as she is poised and charming. When her plots were revealed in the end, she showed a crack in the divide between her fake world and Alceste’s.
The stage was a stationary set piece that held tremendous presence. The entire play takes place in Celimene’s home and was designed with bright swinging doors in the back. The walls of the mansion stretched around the Hilberry’s center stage, and the doors in the back allowed for grand and comical entrances. It gave a satisfying thud each time it was slammed shut.
Moliere wrote a majority of the play in rhyming verse and a minimum amount of stage directions, which, like Shakespeare, creates a strain on the actors. The Hilberry’s training shows they’ve taught their students well. There were no noticeable missteps of language; the actors were able to make the dense text alive, funny and engaging. The banter was seamless and the proper emphasis and stage presence made the play funny for a modern audience.
The only disappointment was the promise, and warning of, pyrotechnics at the beginning of the play. There is hardly any physical conflict and there are no duels, so the thought of explosions is odd.
The explosion didn’t even make an appearance until the final moments of the play when the stage darkened and sparks shot out of a chandelier and fizzled out seconds later.
Huge explosions aside, The Misanthrope is another stellar Hilberry production that offers another timeless classic delivered in the capable and humble Hilberry Theatre.