Moliere's classic Misanthrope, a comedic satire of French seventeenth century high society now being performed at Arena Stage, provided an entertaining night of laughter and social commentary. Despite being too heavy on melodrama, Moliere manages to make profound observations of human nature.
The satisfactory performance was encumbered by the dated language. Despite Molier's failure to develop new points as the plot progresses, the witty script manages to hold the attention of the audience.
A sympathetic audience witnesses Alceste (Michael Emerson) complain about the insincere flattery running rampant among his social peers. His friends, namely Philinte (John Leonard Thompson) initially attempt to explain to Alceste the necessity of artificial plaudits in order to gain status in court. Alceste ignores his friends' aadvice and vows to live a completely honest life. Horrified, Philinte describes the chaos that will erupt if people shared their true feelings toward each other.
Coincidently, Alceste runs into trouble moments after making his vow, when a powerful courtier, Oronte (Partrick Husted) asks for criticism of a poem he has written, "Ode to Hope." Alceste, unable to praise the poem, launches into a harsh denunciation; one of many biting insults that added color throughout the play. Oronte is aghast, and storms off stage.
In the next scene we meet Celimene (Nance Williamson), Alceste's love interest and epitome of all he hates about society. Alceste demands that she stops entertaining other suitors, but Celelimane counters that his jealousy is unfounded. The altercation leads to a heated discussion on the meaning of love, as well as forgiveness and faultfinding.
In the second act the plot moves on into the complications that arise from Alecest's unwillingness to abide by the rules of his society.
The most comedic parts of the play were those when the characters did their best to malign each other. Specifically, over a pleasant cup of tea, Celimene, and her "friend" Arsinoe tell each other (because they are such good frineds) what rumors they have heard spreading through the court.
The simple set consisted of period furniture and a floor tiled with symbolically significant images of eyes, ears, lips, and ears. Moving chandeliers helped enhance the visually entertaining aspect of the play. Fichandler's circle in the round construction also aided the performance by forcing the actors to stay in constant motion.
Exceptional performances by Nance Williamson and Naomi Jacobson failed to compensate for the weak performance of the lead, Michael Emerson. Throughout the course of the play, Emerson fails to portray multiple dimensions to the character Alceste. No matter what the emotional climate of a scene, his expressions and mannerisms remain ridiculously high strung and exasperated. His facial expressions changed only rarely, and his response to just about every situation was a uniform squinting of the eyes.
Also, while the rhyme scheme initially was entertaining, by the second act it had grown tiresome. The emphasis merely allowed the audience to anticipate upcoming lines.
Despite these minor complaints, The Misantrope was a fun performance whose social commentary rang true with the contemporary audience.
Anna Benfield. Anna Benfield is a CAP swimmer, field hockey and lacrosse goalie and diversity workshop leader. She loves biking, sailing, collages, the zoo and her little brother. More »
Josh Scannell. Josh Scannell is an 11th grader at Blair High School. He is a page editor on the Silver Chips staff. When not working, he enjoys listening to, reading about, watching and playing music. He also enjoys a good movie and hanging out with his friends. More »