The Misanthrope

A strong restaging of the Molière play, executed with brilliance and conviction


Tickets are $17-20


Through June 16 at Il Teatro 450, 449 Powell (near Sutter), S.F.

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Women in Time's presentation of Molière's 1666 play is a shining example of strong vision executed with brilliance and conviction. Director Sacha Reich reimagines the play in 1950s Hollywood during the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of the "Hollywood Ten," and casts accordingly. But while you'll find recognizable characters in The Misanthrope -- the young starlet Célimène (Jennifer Wagner); her love, the cynical, misanthropic screenwriter Alceste (Paul Silverman); her doters Acaste and Clitandre (the debonair Paul Sevillano Jennings and charming Peter Schmuckal, respectively); the aging actress Arsinoë (a viciously snooty Valerie de Jose); and even the western movie star Oronte (the hilarious Kevin Karrick) -- Reich doesn't draw simple parallels to key political and Hollywood figures, nor does she rely on a couple of scenes to justify her choice of staging. Instead she masterfully layers the text with blocking and stage business that tease out the subtext. For example, in one scene the seemingly prudish Arsinoë bites into a cherry; in another, Alceste's friend Philinte (a cool John Ficarro) oozes the play's rhymed couplets in the style of a beat poet. Against a simple and effective monochromatic set (by Mikiko Uesugi), the talented ensemble effortlessly translates Reich's vision of Molière's comedy of manners, in which ass-kissing and backstabbing both have their place -- and in what better place than Tinseltown? ("She's stupid and arrogant," says Célimène of Arsinoë just before they kiss in greeting.) In one of the play's darker moments, all the men confront Célimène on her faithfulness. "Name a name and it will all be over," they demand, and the weight of this line is palpable. Silverman and Wagner, both individually stellar, enhance each other wonderfully, creating moments both intense and touching in this not-to-be-missed production.

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