Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Misanthrope by Moliere - Adapted by Tony Tanner

Rebecca Lincoln and Christopher Salazar  - Photos by Garth Pillsbury

By Joe Straw

Misanthrope:  noun

1.) a hater of human kind –

2.) One who hates mankind – Urban dictionary.

3.) A person who hates or distrusts humankind. – Merriam-Webster

I prefer the first definition from 

“A hater of humankind.”  Alceste (Christoper Salazar) says it in no uncertain terms. Well, maybe in certain terms.

The City of West Hollywood presents The Classical Theatre Lab production “The Misanthrope” by Moliere, directed and adapted by Tony Tanner through August 16th, 2015 at 4pm in the lovely Kings Road Park.

The time is the 1930’s in Paris France - for really no other reasons than the very lovely costumes by Natalie Shahinyan - giving an ambiance of aristocracy.  

Céliméne’s (Rebecca Lincoln) lovely home has a beautiful view of a park.  And all the men who visit her seem to know every nook and cranny of her home as well as they know their own bedrooms.  And one must say, in a manner of speaking, that this does not bode well for Céliméne.

And we open in Céliméne’s home in a time where Philinte (Mike Bingaman) and Alceste are in an impassive discussion about Alceste not being introduced to Philinte’s friend.

Alceste wants to cut ties with Philinte immediately for treating him so poorly—in keeping with his austere contempt for humanity.   

“Leave me, I pray.” – Alceste

Alceste judges that Philinte is too affable with the masses, a confoundedly grotesque way of life that he is not willing to tolerate.

“I like to be distinguished; and, to cut the matter short, the friend of all mankind is no friend of mine.” – Alceste

Alceste’s intention is to break with all mankind.

“But do you wish harm to all mankind?” – Philinte

“Yes, I have conceived a terrible hatred for them.” – Alceste

(Polar opposites attracting.)

In this opening scene, directed by Tony Tanner, the manner in which objectives are achieved are slightly confusing with the disagreements not really matching the characters’ mannerism or intentions.  (Shake this to an off afternoon.) The characters are politely speaking, a persiflage, rather than making the moments count. 

The opening should define both characters. And as the scene progressed, the esthetic impression suggested only a slight difference in character. The characters need defining so that we are not perplexed about the manner in which the conflict of this scene resolves itself and are clear in the direction the play is heading.

Again, the fatuous jostling does not weigh in on the characters’ heart, which is infinitely important, and a dramatic change in their relationship is necessary.

Finally one reveals a trump card, with a smile of course.  

“Upon my word, you would do well to keep silence.  Rail a little less at your opponents, and attend a little more to your suit.” - Philinte

A change in their relationship is evident, possibly apparent, with neither side winning, nor a clear-cut knockout with Alceste’s head on the canvas, like the mentioning of the nasty lawsuit.

Still, in spite of hating everything and everyone, Alceste tells Philinte that he loves Céliméne.

“…I confess my weakness, she has the art of pleasing me.  In vain I see her faults; I may even blame them; in spite of all, she makes me love her. “ – Alceste

(And if I may politely cut to the quick; Jeez, how’d you like to hop in the sack with that?)

Philinte, a very agreeable sort with anyone within earshot, claims that he loves Éliante (Christina Jacquelyn Calph).

L - Michael Faulkner, Rebecca Lincoln, Christina Jacquelyn Calph, Christopher Salazar

And while both beauties are out of the house, Oronte (Michael Faulkner) barges in to speak with Alceste and to make friends.

Okay, bad move, because Alceste hates everyone and in fact ignores Oronte as though he were not even in the room. But Oronte doesn’t give up.

Your hand, if you please.  Will you promise me your friendship? – Oronte

“Sir…” – Alceste

“What!  You refuse me?” – Oronte

“Sir, you do me too much honor; but friendship is a sacred thing, and to lavish it on every occasion is surely to profane it.” – Alceste


But, never mind.  Oronte says he has the King’s private ear in the event of an emergency and should Alceste need it, he will gladly help.   But in the meantime, Oronte will use the moment to read a sonnet he has prepared for Alceste entitled “Hope”.  

Oronte reads and Philinte, of course, loves it, every line, every turn of phrase, the conclusion, all lovely.

To bear no malice with Oronte, Alceste shares his experience with writers who do not have a gift. And with dreadful curiosity, Oronte wants to know if he is like those other writers.  Alceste does not dislodge as Oronte presses for an answer, until…

“Candidly, you had better put it in your closet.” – Alceste

This scene needs a hearty stretch, to be taken to another creative level, between characters that are extreme in their loving, hating, and begging for love, real love, not the whimsical gnarly love, but the creative love that sends the hearts soaring out of the theatre.  

Later, not to give up in his unyielding attempts to make Céliméne his, Alceste sees fit to quarrel with her.

“Oh, I see! It is to quarrel with me, that you wished to conduct me home?” – Céliméne

“I do not quarrel.  But your disposition, Madam, is too ready to give any first comer an entrance into your heart.  Too many admirers beset you; and my temper cannot put up with that.” - Alceste

And this is true, Céliméne has men crawling around her house like common house cats.  She tries to assure Alceste by arranging houseplants as though his feelings about her infidelities should not be of great concern and really nothing to worry about.

But really, she doesn’t like his method of loving.

“Your method, however, is entirely new, for you love people only to quarrel with them; it is in peevish expression alone that your feelings vent themselves; no one ever saw such a grumbling swain.” – Céliméne

This beauty has a point and she does it in with kindness.

(This production has eliminated Céliméne’s manservant, Basque. Pity because the role adds much.)

L - Thomas Anawalt, Jeffrey Scott Basham

Alceste leaves, not wanting to watch the ensuring carnage, of the two marquis seeking to woo Céliméne heart.  They are Acaste (Thomas Anawalt) and Clitandre (Jeffrey Scott Basham).  And while their intercourse speaks of current events, their physical desires are manifested in other subtle sophisticated surreptitious ways with hardly a glance given to the beautiful Éliante (Christina Jacquelyn Calph), Céliméne’s cousin.

This scene presents some interesting challenges because it requires the two men to complete for the hand of Célinéne while almost ignoring the very beautiful Éliante, who stands alone beside them, at a loss for words, while they fight for the other woman.  

Naytheless, Alceste does not approve of these gatherings, and he also does not approve all the men in her home!

“No, Madam, no, though I were to die for it, you have pastimes which I cannot tolerate; and people are very wrong to nourish in your heart this great attachment to the very faults which they blame in you.” – Alceste

“As for myself, I do not know; but I openly acknowledge that hitherto I have thought this lady faultless.” - Clitandre

And while Acaster and Clitandre proclaim their love for Célinéne and vow to step out of each other’s way should one win her heart, Célnéne plays very hard to get.

“What!  Here still?” – Céliméne

“Love, Madam, detains us.” – Clitandre

“I hear a carriage below.” – Céliméne

This is an emotional moment that should leave the two men feeling like carcasses under the carriage.  

L Kathy Bell Denton, Rebecca Lincoln

Arriving in the carriage is Arsinoé (Kathy Bell Denton), a woman who has her sights on Alceste and who brings a lot of worrisome thoughts into Céliméne’s home. Arsinoé is an equivocal untangled mass of urbanity and single to boot which makes her a very unpleasant person to be around.  She’s trouble.

Despite my railings, I loved this show.  By the time you see this, some nuances may be worked out.  The men were fantastic and funny, and the women were beautiful and kind.  And the setting couldn’t have been any better, in the park, and under a shady tree.  What a pleasant afternoon!  And it’s free!

There are a few more things one would like to address. As a friendly observation from a criticaster, a man can just hate human kind only if he is madly in love with himself.

Which lead me to Christopher Salazar, as Alceste, an actor with innumerable skills and making moments work to great satisfaction. Everything about his character was perfect, except his shoes, which were layered in dust.  And I asked myself, was this on purpose?  Does it say something about the character or was it a mistake? Certainly Alceste thinks he is the best at everything, smarter than everyone, a better writer than anyone, lover, etc., excepting his shoes shine.  There’s more to be had here but nevertheless, an exceptional job.

Mike Bingaman, as Philinte, needs to find the core of the character. Bingaman takes his time to get to the point, his intention, but his objective should be evident when he enters the room. Still Bingaman has a very good look.

Michael Faulkner is very funny as Oronte, a sort-of the comic relief with the beret and the appearance of a low budget film director, a very low, low, budget. The Hope scene was hilarious and I detected a little improvisation on the day I was there. Still there’s more to be had during his first scene between the other two gentlemen. Faulkner has found his niche in these roles but one would like to see him in something more dramatic the next go around. Still, it is a very remarkable job.

Rebecca Lincoln is very impressive as Céliméne.  She is a stunning creature that creates riveting moments of desperation in the character.  Up close in the park, one can get a lot starring into her eyes only to watch her maneuver out of a predicament to a gracious resolution.  

Christina Jacquelyn Calph does an exceptional job as Éliante.  One believes there is more to the character and it is in her quiet moments, wanting to attract the right man, so that he does not get away.  The scene where she is alone with her counterpart needs the action of desire to be with her man before the word are actually said if only to add to an already very fine performance.

Thomas Anawalt fills the role of Acaste perfectly and has some very nice moments with the letter. These are the little intangibles that you love to see in an actor’s work. Nice job!

Jeffrey Scott Basham is also exceptional as Clitendre.  Basham has a strong voice and a commanding presence and if I would add anything to the role it would be of one-upmanship for the lady of the house.

Kathy Bell Denton is impeccable as Arsinoe. Arsinoe is perfectly coiffed and arranged with a wonderful wardrobe. Denton presents us with a three-dimensional character from the inside out. Certainly her performance is a jolt to the acting senses and one that should not be missed.

This is a very impressive job by director Tony Tanner.  There is very little in the way of a set and Tanner guides the actors effectively. The play works in this fashion, in the time, and place.  Still, all in all, this was a very pleasant afternoon.

And as an obtuse observation—the characters are peculiar in that they think they are better than the other characters.  One character is smarter and has a strong vocabulary but no one ever questions an unknown word, in thought or an indolent inquisitorial silence.  One character is extremely affable but the other character does not react to his over the top affability.  One character is a better lover but does not prove it to his companion in manner or deed.  

Alexander Wells was an Oronte/Alternate but did not perform the day I was there.

Also, Suzanne Hunt and Alexander Wells finely produced this production.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Susan Deeley Wells – Assistant Director and Set Coordinator
Natalie Shahinyan – Costume Design
Terry Tocantins – Stage Manager
Nora Feldman – Publicity

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who is infatuated with himself.

King Road Park
1000 Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA  

No comments:

Post a Comment