By Christi Rutledge
Have you ever heard the phrase “If you hate your friends, you’re not alone?” That’s immediately what came to my mind after seeing this year’s production of The Misanthrope. The false niceties that people extend to one another and the gossip that people spread behind one other’s backs are just as prevalent in 2011 as they were in 1666 when The Misanthrope was first performed. That is what I love about great works of art – they transcend time. The problems that were plaguing people centuries ago are still around today. For me it is simultaneously comforting and concerning – but social conscience aside, this play is fabulous for so many reasons. (I’ll try to limit myself to a few of my favourite things.)
Two of my favourite actors play in this seventeenth-century comedy of manners: Sara Topham is the sweetly wicked Célimène and Ben Carlson is the very blunt and incredulous Alceste. In a world where social graces are everything, Alceste insists on telling his fellow courtiers exactly how he feels, which works to his benefit and to his detriment. The gossipy, flirtatious Célimène is both the object of Alceste’s affections and the embodiment of all he stands against – which makes for a ton of laughs throughout the performance.
As if the actors weren’t amazing enough, the set and costumes for this production are absolutely breathtaking. Set designer John Lee Beatty has created a period backdrop to remember with thoughtful details down to a portrait of people whispering in the background. The women’s dresses, designed by Robin Fraser Paye, are standouts that have taken our Wardrobe Department hundreds of hours to create. (I dream about wearing the costumes for this show around my house!)
Another of my favourite things about The Misanthrope is the use of language. The play was originally written in French in rhyming verse, and the English translation that we’re using keeps the rhyme. The actors all float over the language seamlessly as if speaking in couplets were natural. Check out this production clip to get a taste of the beautiful poetry in this play.
Don’t miss out on your chance to see The Misanthrope – we’d love to hear what you thought of the show!