The Misanthrope Review- A Comedy of Manners

Moliére’s classic 17th century play, The Misanthrope, gets a radical revamp in this updated version performed at the Piccolo Theatre. Written by British playwright Martin Crimp, this modern version swaps the intrigue of the French Aristocracy with that of an upper class London artist cliché. Relatively new to this incestuous world is the starlet Jennifer (Callie Stephens) who throws more shade on her fellow actresses than a palm tree. She also is a bit of a flirt who is not at all afraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Helplessly in love with her (or at least the idea of her) is the misanthrope Alceste (Ben Muller) whose principle aim in life is to “never try to deceive.” To that end he is brutally honest to the point that he almost suffocates on his own virtue. Jennifer may love Alceste. She also may be unfaithful. And the sum of those two truths is enough to drive Alceste insane.

Nelson Rodriguez and Joe Beal

Artistic Director/Director Michael D. Graham perfectly realizes a petty world contained entirely within a luxury hotel room. The theater’s intimacy here is an asset with everything on stage appearing immediate and unforced. Also helping matters is Sarah Lewis’ minimalistic but clever scenic design where the fully stocked bar deserves its own credit.

Ben Muller and Callie Stephens

The production is also well cast with Ben Muller excelling as the somewhat aloof, overly sincere Alceste. Callie Stephens makes for a seductive Jennifer and one can immediately understand why Alceste is so smitten with her. The cast also includes Kurt Proepper (as Alceste’s easy going friend John), Nelson Rodriguez (the shallow playboy Julian), Christina Jones (the journalist Ellen), Joe Beal (Jennifer’s agent Alex), and Derek Jeck (the aspiring artist and thin skinned critic Covington). All play well off of each other and are also completely believable in their roles.  

Kurt Proepper

I did have a bit of a problem though believing that Jennifer would ever be attracted to the older, only somewhat successful Alceste. The script also loses its focus somewhat in the middle scenes and leaves one intriguing subplot (a bet made between Julian and Alex over whom will be the first to bed Jennifer) completely unexplored. It is also worth pointing out that what passes for devotion in 17th century France appears, in the present, more like stalking. But this in no way detracts from the very clever versed dialogue that holds true to the source material while at the same time clicking with today’s sensibilities. And when a character states that “we critics are artists too,” well, it made me want to stand up and cheer.

Christina Jones

Bottom Line: The Missanthrope is recommended and is playing at the Piccolo Theatre (600 Main Street, Evanston; on the east platform of the Metra station) through April 23. Tickets can be purchased at Piccolo Theatre or by calling (847) 424-0089 for $27 (senior and student discounts available). For more theater information go to Theater in Chicago

 
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All photos courtesy of the Piccolo Theatre

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