I love this play, I love this production, I love this adaptation, and I love the wigs (they’re all fuscia)!
At first I was skeptical about the update of the text, which moves the world of 1666 Baroque decadence to the contemporary London scene. Gossip rags are scattered about the pink and white hotel suite of a rising young American “It Girl,” with her face on the covers. Her critic-lover Alceste (originally played by Molière himself) is in the midst of a moral reawakening, critical of every aspect of this shallow and hypocritical existence.
The text’s adaptation by Martin Crimp preserves the beauty of verse drama, while still inclusive of modern colloquialisms and speech pattern. It is an incredible feat and a pleasure to behold on Tarragon’s main stage. The original text would also have been slightly rough and true to the casualness of ordinary social language so it is actually incredibly faithful. It’s not like other modernizations which just replace “swords” with “guns” and still call them swords.
I am usually averse to fake British accents but these are just as impeccable as the text they deliver. Stuart Hughes is a very grounding force to the whole production, the idealistic voice of reason and criticism. He loves Jenny in a (you guessed it) misanthropic way, unable to accept that she is just a shallow little party girl, and nearly mad with jealousy over the swarms of men that cloud around her.
Andrea Runge is flaky yet steadfast in her ways as the coke-snorting, pink-loving shopaholic. She was very refreshing and a lovely counterpoint to Hughes. Other standouts include Patrick Galligan as John, the comrade of Alceste, and understudy Stephen Gartner as the bored former teen idol Julian, normally played by Brandon McGibbon.
Another surprising aspect to the production is the absurdly reflexive sound design by Mike Ross. The baby-boomers that comprised the entire audience lapped up the parlour-musicesque versions of You’re So Vain, Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy, and Jealous Guy among others songs. These tracks were all performed with operatic stoicism and accompanied by harpsichords. Appropriately hilarious I suppose, but I personally found them overly expository and a tad distracting.
As supportive as they are, the audience at Tarragon looks so different from that of Buddies in Bad Times, for example.
It’s always hilarious to overhear what audience members say during intermission. I heard one fellow with a British accent explain, “the dialogue, if you listen carefully, is really quite good.” As though it were a surprise that there was substance to this piece. This, among other things, made me feel like the material is lost on most of people and that instead, they saw it as just a farce, only interested in the sight-gags or pop music.
It is indeed comical but the play is really telling us that you cannot have a social life without making even just a small moral compromise.
I am interested to see what Sara Topham, Andrea Runge’s former Importance of Being Earnest castmate, will do with the “Jenny” role this summer in Stratford, as Célimène in the original text. I thought Runge wasn’t hard around the edges and very relaxed, and Topham’s characters are usually anything but relaxed.
Overall, an excellent performance of a brilliant piece of literature. Really catch this show even if just for the inspired and elegant adaptation. And if that doesn’t sell you, just watch this.
– the Misanthrope runs from January 5th to February 6th, 2011 at Tarragon Theatre’s mainspace
– Tarragon is located at 30 Bridgman Avenue, at the corner of Howland Avenue
– tickets run from $22-$44 and Sunday matinee and Friday night rush tickets are only $10
– tickets can be purchased online through their website or by phone at 416.531.1827
Photo: Stuart Hughes and Andrea Runge by Cylla von Tiedemann