By RILEY SPELLMAN
Visiting Professor Chris Clarke’s modernized interpretation of Moliere’s The Misanthrope was a laugh a minute, while also leaving its audience thinking about society’s influence over our self-perception and social lives.
Professor Clarke transported the show from its original French Restoration setting to the 1970s, a modernization that enticed audience members to relate to the plot and characters more than perhaps a classic interpretation may have. For while the language remained in its translated, delicate form of high and thoroughly stylized prose, the action and the characters became more familiar to the college students in the audience. The actions were contemporary in the sense that, nowadays, anyone on campus could be seen making a similar scene, and while the language was kept in Moliere’s original, poetic form, the words became more meaningful and understandable in the context of the character’s modernized lives.
Professor Clark also toyed with conceptions of gender, switching men and women interchangeably and dressing some male characters in rather feminine attire. Clitandre, played by Sean McGuire, comes to mind immediately for anyone that saw the show—he was wearing fur head-to-toe, with a fox draped over his head like a hilarious hat. Similarly, actor Matt Morrison’s costume for the butler role, consisted of skinny jeans and a snug t-shirt.
Furthermore, the introduction of the play, discussing both the plot and the rules of the theater, in case of emergency, was a homemade monologue riffing on Moliere’s poetic style. The nobleman, played by Collin Henderson (the show’s Assistant Director), wore the traditional clothing of the Restoration period and delivered a clever and inviting invitation to the show.
Moliere apparently wrote this play based on his own wife’s infidelities. In fact, Moliere himself played Alceste to his wife’s Celimene, roles now filled by Peter Quigley and Kate Aseltine. This knowledge adds an interesting dimension to the relationship of the two main characters, as they strive to find a balance between narcissism and the love of another made impossible by the love of oneself.
All and all, if you missed last weekend’s excellent performances of The Misanthrope, it’s a shame, and everyone should take an hour to burn through Moliere’s intelligent play—it really was a fantastic choice for this semester’s main stage production!