Friday, October 24, 2008

The Misanthrope

Juilliard's 4th year drama students' production of Moliere's The Misanthrope is delightful. We saw it last night, after waiting an hour for (free) stand-by tickets, which I understand are fairly easy to get on a Thursday night, but may be more difficult over the weekend. Still, it's worth a try. Check the Juilliard Calendar Website for details.

So, is 400 year old French satire worth seeing? Yes, in a PG13 sort of way. If you might be put off by gold lame 2-piece swim suit, and a 20 minute flirtation scene with Celimene and her shirtless suiters in a pool, don't bother. It sounds gimmicky, I know, and when I read the preview in the Juilliard Journal, though my curiosity was piqued, I had my doubts. Moliere, for all his verbal brilliance, did not leave stage directions, so any production lends itself to some odd and unexpected variations in scene and setting at the whims of those who make such decisions. (I have a fear of modern theater...will I be treated to Shakespeare on roller skates? Sophocles on stilts? a pool?) The set has some of the expected elements: French doors, long drapes, winding staircase, fine upholstered furniture; and then there sits the pool, front and center, on stage, complete with a monkey-fountain. The play begins, and...

The pool works seamlessly as an integral part of the set; and it works not just because of the unexpected swim scene, which enhances the comedy, but because of the comedic timing of every word and motion, in, out, and along the edge of the pool. The students have an uncanny sense of space and matter--solid, liquid and gas--and use it all perfectly. Those audience members seated in the "splash zone" were a bit surprised, I suspect, but it was all in good fun. The play, pool and all, is perfect. The lines, an English verse translation by Richard Wilbur, come so naturally to each actor, you'd think they spoke in rhyme all the time.

I am reluctant to post reviews of the individual cast members, as they were all unique and well-suited to their respective roles. I will say that the young man who played the dark and brooding lead character reminded me of a cross between my son Trip and Keanu Reeves. And we all know how misanthropic Trip can be sometimes (like when he played the demonic tempter in Milton's Comus)...

Oh! The costumes...can we talk about costumes? Is there anything more fun than French fashion? The frills! The embroidery! The shoes (on the men)! The hats! The unmentionables!

I just want to add a bit about the ending, without giving it away. After all the lines are said and the main characters have left the stage, the supporting actors are left, and together create silently, and with minimal movement, the most comedic moments of the play. Thank you, Group 38.

See it if you can.

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