Review: The Misanthrope (Tarragon)

by Jenna Rocca

I love this play, I love this production, I love this adaptation, and I love the wigs (they’re all fuscia)!

That’s the basic report of my response to Tarragon Theatre‘s Artistic Director Richard Rose’s production of Molière‘s masterpiece the Misanthrope. Now playing until February 6th.

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

5 thoughts on “Review: The Misanthrope (Tarragon)”

  1. As a baby-boomer(I apologize), and a Moliere translator myself, may I gently point out to Jenna Rocca that Stratford is not actually producing the Misanthrope this summer “in the original text.” That was originally written in French in 1666; Stratford is using the version Richard Wilbur translated into English in 1955.

  2. Do you really think that is what I meant? I was referring to the fact that the character is called “Célimène in the original text,” and obviously in this translation that you so conveniently have identified. Thanks for the information.

    You should not have to apologize for being a baby-boomer, but only if you were one to conform to their more bothersome social tendencies. Would you not agree that more young people should get out there and see great theatre, in hopes of perpetuating it?

    My hope is that it does not die with the baby-boomers.

  3. It’s great to see younger people in theatres – that’s one reason I like to read Mooney On Theatre. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to be contemptuous of baby-boomers to achieve that (like referring to “these kinds of audience members” and “those people” – and now “their more bothersome social tendencies.”)

    Did you see the 2009 Red Light District version of Misanthrope at the Drake Hotel? In my opinion, it was head and shoulders above the Tarragon version, partly because it was a translation, not a colloquial adaptation. The audience (average age much lower) loved it.

    And I disagree entirely that Molière wrote in a fashion “slightly rough and true to the casualness of ordinary social language” . . . but that’s another topic.

  4. Hi David,

    Just wanted to put out a mea culpa. When editing the piece I was apparently doing to much scanning. When I read the paragraphs you’re speaking of I completely missed the bit about ‘these kinds’ and ‘these people’.

    Instead I read it as “It’s always hilarious to overhear what these kinds of audience members say during intermission…”It’s always hilarious to overhear what audience members say during intermission…” and “the material is lost on most of these people” I just read it as ‘this audience’ which, to be honest, I’d forgotten had been characterized as baby boomers.

    Since the point of Mooney on Theatre is to get as many perspectives on theatre as we can, we certainly have no reason to be celebrating anyone who is in a theatre, and if an audience is full of baby boomers, then, frankly, that’s fantastic, because it means an audience is full.

    So, I just wanted to apologize again, on behalf of the whole Mooney on Theatre editorial team, and from me specifically for not fulfilling my due diligence in editing before the publishing of something which displayed prejudice against anyone, especially an entire group of people. It certainly goes against what MoT stands for.

    I am going to issue a retraction of that section.

    Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.

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