Here Celimene is a backbiting slut of an actress with a Hollywood loft; the misanthrope Alceste is a disgruntled screenwriter; everyone else is somehow involved in show business, and Oronte -- Alceste's rival -- is a screenwriter who nevertheless gives Alceste a taste of his talent in sonnet form. It's like a rhyming Melrose Place. And the opening lines are painful. When Alceste gives his speech about the ugliness and fakery of contemporary culture, Philinte says, "This town's too small to rant and rave and rock the boat/ Life is but a dream if you just let yourself float!" (Gag.) Dr. Seuss had more felicity.
But somehow the play works. When the actors hit a groove you forget how bad the lines are; and when the translator (Neil Bartlett) stays away from excruciatingly current references, and simply translates Moliere, it starts to cook. The story has Alceste falling miserably in love with Celimene, who flirts with everyone in Hollywood: She's nasty enough behind their backs, but she can't be cruel to anyone face to face. Alceste worries that she's faithless -- which she is -- and Arsinoe, an older actress, gives her a snide report of her slipping reputation. These two scenes, first the catty confrontation between the women and then the jealous proclamations of Alceste, are smooth and forceful, partly because Janet Keller is so good at being venomous, as Arsinoe, and partly because Stephen Robinson's Alceste comes alive with the task of being lovesick. The play also improves when the actors stop thinking about meter and let the lines (wherever possible) slip naturally off their tongues.
One touch that doesn't work is the music. The show opens with a choreographed introduction showing all the characters schmoozing around Celimene's apartment to a throbbing metal-influenced song by Six Eye Columbia, a band fronted by one of the cast members. It jars. Besides clashing with Celimene's chicly retro decor, it just doesn't seem like the kind of music these Hollywood types would listen to. As a directorial decision it doesn't make sense. A touch of nepotism?