BWW Review: WSC Avant Bard's A MISANTHROPE a Classic Farce
So, I get it - you're fed up with the Washington scene, the back-stabbing, fake-smile, saccharine compliment, the BS that seems to be the only way to get ahead. Want to take a break from all that stuff?
Fat chance. Checked your news feed lately?
But I'm here to tell you there is an antidote, a delicious, raunchy send-up of your least favorite social and political set. Matt Minnicino's distillation of an old French classic, A Misanthrope, is a classic summer Romp on the Riviera, populated by some of the most deliciously stereotypical misfits ever.
[Brief nerdy theatre history bit: Minnicino bases his play on the old chestnut, Moliere's The Misanthrope, which rocked the house at Versailles back in the 1660's. It had rhyming couplets galore (well, it had to - it was the law), but had to pull a few punchlines here and there to get past the French Academy and its censors. Minnicino works within the old style, but enlivens it with truly blush-worthy rhymes and invective that Moliere could only dream of putting onstage (I think the old, stiff French dude might be just a little jealous).]
Director Megan Behm has embraced the world of old French farce, and crafted an exquisite satire that is as frenetic and slap-stick as it is wickedly witty. Minnicino's rhyming couplets constantly leave you gasping for breath with laughter, and every single member of the cast has honed their characters to their sharpest comic edge. There isn't a moment, a word, or a gesture wasted, and the way the actors literally throw themselves into their roles is a pure joy to watch.
Elliott Kashner leads off as Alceste, the Misanthrope of the title, whose hard-core humorlessness will leave you in stitches. Disgusted by high society, he rejects everyone around him as fakes, but falls madly in love with one of the most superficial dames imaginable - Celimene, played here with a hilarious insouciance by Thais Menendez. The chief target of Alceste's wrath is Oronte - Matt Sparacino, whose boorishness is a delight. Oronte and Alceste are constantly suing each other, and the latest case in the docket is a piece of wretched verse Oronte insists is an instant classic. (The fact that Oronte is also hot for Celimene doesn't help matters much).
The chaos grows with vigor as two more of Celimene's suitors, Clitandre and Acaste (Patrick Joy and Tendo Nsubuga) arrive, and prove to be as clueless as anyone else onstage.
The only thing vaguely resembling sanity comes in the form of Alceste's friend Philinte-Jenna Berk, a perfect foil if there ever was one-and a delightfully nerdy Eliante-Chloe Mikala-who is more concerned with everyone's grammar than their manners, natch.
Hard as it is to believe, Alceste has a small fan club-the ever-censorious Arsinoe, who gets hot every time he rails against the world's hypocrisy. As played here to a fever pitch by Sara Barker, we see a prude who can switch on a dime from high-minded propriety to the down-and-dirty. Her split-personality is an absolute show-stopper. Ditto, Hannah Sweet's turn as the servants Basque and DuBois, each so fully realized it's easy to forget that these two bumblers are played by the same actress.
The minute you walk into the Gunston Theatre Two space, Megan Holden's set sends you to one of those ritzy, kitschy mansions on the beach, complete with lounge chairs, umbrella and pseudo-Greek statue that is as pointless as it is naked (don't worry, one of the characters will fix that last part). And costume designer Alison Samantha Johnson has assembled some of the most incredibly legendary, tacky, beach-wear imaginable. I mean, pink shorts with shark motifs? Electric blue jackets and pink flamingo pool toys? The stuff is so loud I recommend you wear shades, like half the cast does. Or, like Alceste, you could always dress for a day in the office even when it's obvious you're at the beach...
The verdict is in, folks, this is a hit, and one of the most outrageous evenings of fun you're going to have this or any June.
Production Photo: Elliott Kashner (seated) as Alceste and Matt Sparacino (hideous shorts) as Oronte. Photo by DJ Corey Photography.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
A Misanthrope runs through June 30 at Gunston Theatre Two 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets are available by calling 703-418-4808 or online at: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=wscab.