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Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008

Polite Society?

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Boulevard Theatre Artistic Director Mark Bucher has long talked about featuring actor David Flores in the lead of a Boulevard production. So when Flores showed interest in the idea of starring as the title character in Moliere's classic 17th-century comedy The Misanthrope, Bucher nabbed him. As a result, Boulevard Theatre will open its season with a production of the play on Tuesday, Aug. 12.

  Floresplays Alceste, a man who criticizes the hypocrisy inherent in polite society, and instead prefers a politically incorrect form of honesty. But Alceste's misanthropic ways are challenged when he finds himself pursuing the flirtatious, young Celimene.

  As director, Bucher has taken some liberties with the play. He moved the setting from 17th-century France to contemporary North America. The original idea was to set it in Milwaukee, but the location has since been moved to Quebec. Changing the era of the play poses certain challenges, but Moliere's comedy of gossip and romance should remain universal in its appeal.

  The most recent notable update of The Misanthrope opened in England in February, when British playwright Ranjit Bolt staged a modern verse translation titled The Grouch. Without drastically changing the text, Bolt's version cast a black man as one of the major characters in order to add issues of race to the play.

  Bucher's staging doesn't shine a light on race, but by switching the genders of some characters, it does peer quite heavily into gender and sexuality.

  "Some of the relationships are now same-sex," Bucher says. The most notable switch is that of Celimene, who will be played as a man by Cesar Gamino. Not wanting to simply turn the comedy into a "gay play," Bucher stages Gamino's character as the type of person who would casually flirt with anyone, regardless of gender. A small theater company at Temple University attempted a similar production of the The Misanthrope in January. In that version, the cast was all male.

  Bucher says he's put lots of thought into the social relevance of his changes, so as not to distract from Moliere's original intention. "My goal is to expand the universality of it," he says.

  Boulevard's The Misanthrope runs through Aug. 24.