While Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) exulted in skewering the aristocracy, the medical, legal, and teaching professions, as well as the church, his success stemmed from his willingness to look at his own follies and hypocricies. No doubt, The Misanthrope is the epitome of his self-deprecation.
The plot centers around a successful middle-aged poet, Alceste (Terry Burnsed), and his comely, young paramour, Célimène (Julie Michalak), much like Molière's real-life situation with Armande Béjart. Alceste complains of the hypocrisies upon which everyday "polite society" is conducted, while unable to break from Célimène, to whom he is passionately bound.
|Terry Burnsed as Alceste|
and Julie Michalak as Célimène
Director Ed Baierlein sets the piece in contemporary Aspen, Colorado, which highlights humorous parallels between the Parisian upper-crust and the international ski resort's "beautiful people," drawing guffaws whenever local references find their way into Richard Wilbur's lively 1955 translation.
Burnsed taps into a rich vein of bourgeois cynicism that is a hallmark of the jet set, where his "trophy wife" shines, flirting with the men in their circle. Yet there is more to Célimène than meets the eye (although what meets the eye is provocative, especially when Michalak parades around in a bikini). Michilak's Célimène is the princess of cool, dishing out barbs on par with Alceste, equally offending their crowd.
Leroy Leonard as the equanimous Philinte, along with Mary Cates's Éliante, are a well-tempered and simpatico pair in a sea of eye-popping hyper-realism, one of Baierlein's fortes. The director gradually turns up the heat, starting with the foppish Oronte (Eric Victor), an aspiring, but talentless poet whom Alceste mocks. Victor's incremental affrontedness inflates delightfully off Burnsed's growing relish in criticizing Oronte's verse.
The stakes climb with Acaste (Sam Gilstrap) and Clitandre (Randy Diamon), a flaming tennis bum and a Teutonic, cocaine-sniffing, lederhosen-clad dandy, who respond to Célimène's pointed notes with a tizzy worthy of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Next, Anne Smith Myers, as Arsinoe, shows up in yet another inspired costume from Sally Diamond—English riding gear—ready to use her crop and ride Alceste. You've got to see her makeup and getup to fully absorb her outrageousness. Finally, Marc K. Moran mesmerizes as Du Bois, the farcical servant.
Molière's points regarding blindness to our own faults, whether we reside at the French court in Versailles, or on the tennis courts of Aspen, are poignantly displayed in this original adaptation. Germinal Stage Denver's production of The Misanthrope runs through June 10th. 303-455-7108.