Md. Stage has a likable 'Misanthrope'

April 22, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Except for a few side chairs, the only scenery in the Maryland Stage Company's production of Moliere's "The Misanthrope" consists of three huge, oval, gilt-framed mirrors -- one at the back of the stage and two at the sides.

Designed by William T. Brown, this set is a highly appropriate image for a play about a man who believes he is above the false flattery of his society but who is revealed to be as dependent on society's opinion as the petty sycophants he disdains.

Under Xerxes Mehta's direction, Sam McCready's portrayal of the title character, Alceste, leaves little doubt of his true nature from the start. McCready's performance may not add any new insights to the character, but it is a solid reading of the text (which happens to be the popular Richard Wilbur translation).

When Alceste attempts to teach a lesson to the conceited, would-be poet Oronte by reading him an example of good poetry, McCready's delivery is every bit as florid and overly dramatic as that of Richard Lyons as Oronte. McCready's Alceste isn't mocking Oronte; he's demonstrating that Alceste has more in common with the constantly posing Oronte than he realizes.

The greatest proof that Alceste's misanthropy is a pose comes from his love for the coquette, Celimene, played by Kim Curtis as a cool, smug temptress. Unlike Alceste, whose game is to insult one and all, Celimene's game is to flirt with one and all.

To take a bit of license with the scenic metaphor of the mirrors, these two could be described as reverse images. Director Mehta even stages one of their early scenes to emphasize this point -- placing them at opposite sides of the stage, looking not at each other, but at their own reflections.

The production includes a number of highly entertaining

supporting portrayals, most notably that of Wendy Salkind as a pursed-lipped snob whose vanity takes the form of prudery. In addition, Michael Stebbins and Jennifer Brown stand out as Alceste's devoted friend, Philinte, and the woman he loves, Eliante; their restrained performances are ideally suited to their characters -- two of the few genuinely decent folk in the play.

To return to those gilt-edged mirrors for a moment, Mehta not only uses them to reinforce the bigger issues of the play, he also employs them to lesser, but still comical, effect. At one point, James Brown-Orleans, who plays a self-satisfied marquess, gazes into one of the mirrors and boldly picks his teeth -- in full view of most of the cast.

Speaking of full view, it's worth noting that these mirrors also reflect the audience -- a subtle reminder that the play's 17th century French society, with its over-reliance on public opinion, may not be all that different from our own.

This isn't an innovative scenic concept. In "A Chorus Line," a huge mirror helped the audience imagine putting itself on the line, and in "Cabaret" a mirror chillingly suggested the audience might be as culpable as the patrons in the Kit Kat Klub. But far be it from this critic to fault a production for borrowing something that works so effectively, particularly since imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. And flattery, after all, is one of "The Misanthrope's" main themes.

"The Misanthrope"

Where: Maryland Stage Company at the University of Maryland Baltimore County Theatre, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Through May 7

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 455-2476

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