Review by Tulis McCall
(2 May 2011)
This show is crisp and juicy. Seeing it is like biting into a food you have never seen before, or if you have, someone says – this one is different, trust me. And Pow! Zap!! Boom!! There you are in the middle of a sensory experience so fabulous all you can do is let your eyes bug out.
David Ives has outdone himself and other writers for miles around with this iambic pentameter (mostly) salute to Molière’s Misanthrope. He has taken the skeleton of that play, turned it on its ear, and handed it over to Walter Bobbie who picked this extraordinary cast.
The Misanthrope – here named Frank (Hamish Linklater) hates the world, and in particular anyone within eyesight. To be sure we mostly see him surrounded by folk who have way too much time on their hands. Paris has turned litigious, and a casual remark will be cause for a court case. As the play commences it is Celimene (Mamie Gummer) who is coming close to ruin because of the court case being mounted against her. Of course she is deserving of conviction for the things she says about her fellow citizens. She entertains her friends with imitations (hilarious) of other friends every day.
When Frank crosses her path, he calls her out on her hypocrisy, and she meets him syllable for syllable. When Philinte (Hoon Lee) tells each a tale of the other, one involving a royal bloodline, the other just plain love, the two who are already well matched, become smitten with one another. She can use him to aid her court case. He can use her to uncork his pent up heart. She swoons and he becomes a puppy-dog. Gummer and Linklater are matched in comedic skills as much as they are verbal.
Scattered around this love-match, like nuggets of delicious invention on a dinner plate, are all manner of people, each with their own accord. Elainte (Jenn Gambatese) and Arsinoé (Alison Fraser) are the opposing tides of friend and fiend. Acaste, (the Matthew Maher), Clitander (Frank Harts) and Oronte (Rick Holmes) compete for the love of Celimene in the fashion of toned down Stooges. Oronte, as a matter of a fact, fancies himself a poet. When Frank is pressed to opine on Oronte’s merits as a writer he responds -
It‘s tinsel. Paste.
It‘s dull, derivative, pale, pompous, trite.
This city‘s full of fans for what I write.
Yes, sycophants who‘re brown well past their noses.
You‘d trust a fecophile to judge your roses?
Ives takes rhyme to a new arena. And once you are used to it, the meter carries you along on this sweet and very smart ride. Each character has an exact flavor and color. And each one has a surprise or two up a well tailored sleeve. In particular this one:
You bask in such serene tranquility.
Pray, what‘s the source of such solidity?
I‘ll tell you in a word: stupidity.
Stupidity unparalleled in man.
When I look in my mirror, as I can
A hundred times a day, not being employed,
I‘m always glad to see me. Overjoyed.
For here I am, completely undeserving
Yet blessed with wealth and plenty. It‘s unnerving.
This is a complete delight, and on the spare set by John Lee Beatty nothing is lost. Every syllable is exact, every word is precise, every moment a revelation. Bravo Big Time!