nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
January 21, 2011
Using Richard Wilbur’s expert verse translation, Moliere’s Misanthrope has rarely seemed so melancholy as it does in Joseph Hanreddy’s pitch-perfect production for The Pearl Theatre Company.
Regarded as Moliere’s masterpiece, The Misanthrope is about Alceste, his extreme distaste for the French aristocracy, and Celimene, the woman he loves, a twenty year old widow who embodies everything he hates about society. She has other suitors, he is extremely jealous, but she refuses to send him away, and he refuses to leave, despite his constant threat of going to a place where he will not be disturbed by anyone.
In terms of self-satisfaction, the Alceste and Celimene of Sean McNall and Janie Brookshire are a perfect match. McNall is all gloom as the idealistic misanthrope of the title, with a world-weary voice and tired, pitiful sighs. Brookshire, ravishing in Sam Fleming’s period costumes and Gerard Kelly’s wig, is a woman all too pleased to get by on her wiles. She is particularly striking in the play’s final minutes, as a look of shame, horror, and embarrassment overtakes her porcelain face to create a gaze that is particularly haunting.
As Celimene’s foppish suitors, Matthew Amendt and Patrick Halley, faces painted bright white with rouged cheeks, are all stomach. So too are Kern McFadden (genuinely obnoxious as the would-be poet Oronte) and Joey Parsons (as the religious moralist Arsinoe). Shawn Fagan and Robin LeMon are quite sweet as the play’s genuine romantic characters, Philinte and Eliante. Dominic Cuskern, as the servants, delivers a delightfully funny pre-show cell phone announcement.
Hanreddy’s blocking is a bit too on the nose, using Harry Feiner’s triangular set to stage the actors in triangle formations, depending on who has power in each scene. Still, he gets all the laughs (and then some) out of Moliere's script and Wilbur’s translation while maintaining its darkness. And we too, as Hanreddy says in his program note, long for Alceste and Celimene to come together in the end.