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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Most Famous Misanthrope

Theater Review

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   What could be more perfect than staging Moliere's comedy The Misanthrope during an election year? The Boulevard Theatre hits the target with a production that scores on almost every level.

  The play, written in 1666, tells the story of Alceste, who may be the most famous misanthrope of all time. From his opening lines until his final speech, Alceste shows his general dislike for humanity. He's unafraid to tell people exactly what he thinks of them. He only equivocates on the subject of love, "where reason doesn't rule." Alceste is a prime example of this, as he pines for a young coquette. More than a half-dozen other characters populate the play. They, too, are ensnared by love.

  For all his righteous pronouncements, Alceste can be his own worst enemy. In the case of a young suitor who's influential with the government, Alceste's own words guarantee his defeat in a resulting lawsuit.

  Director Mark Bucher sets the play in a contemporary art gallery. This is an excellent choice on Bucher's part, as it gives relevance to Alceste's situation. When a friend begs Alceste to be more politically astute, who cannot think of the TV ads pitting Obama against McCain? Bucher also wisely trims the play's running time to two hours. Delightful as it may be, The Misanthrope is long on talk and short on action. It's too bad that some of the supporting players are onstage for long stretches with nothing to do.

  As Alceste, David Flores gives a masterful, understated performance. Although the play is structured as a farce, Flores rarely displays more emotion than a raised eyebrow or small gesture. This is a perfect fit for the Boulevard's intimate stage. His best friend Philinte (played here by a woman, Beth Monhollen) is equally restrained. Although audiences may easily be distracted by some of the more flamboyant actors, Monhollen delivers a touching performance. Her longing for an unrequited love, Eliante, is further heightened by the demure (and impressive) performance of her love interest, Marion Araujo.

  Aside from Alceste and a few other characters, Bucher allows his gender-bending production to get out of hand. The phrase "over the top" doesn't begin to describe some of the antics employed by a few male characters. Bucher needs to rethink some of his directorial choices if he aims to appeal to a wider audience. Aside from this quibble, The Misanthrope is well worth a look.

  Moliere's classic comedy runs through Aug. 24 at the Boulevard Theatre.