Westminster Community Theatre’s ambitious but awkward production of “The Misanthrope” buries much of Moliere’s satiric bite beneath an avalanche of words. Despite an accessible new translation by director Charles Taylor, his cast never finds the human beings behind the posturing and pontificating.
Moliere provided an array of pretentious bubbles waiting to be burst in this satiric comedy about fops and fools in a 17th-Century French court. The disdainful Alceste despises the fawning duplicity he sees all around him and decides he will rise above it by dealing only in truth--or rather, the truth as he sees it. But there is one large blind spot in his righteousness--his devotion to the lovely but obviously fickle Celimene.
Taylor’s translation works well, using language that is contemporary without being colloquial. But Moliere’s dialogue can’t escape being speech-sodden, which causes most of the performances to become mired in one dimension as the players make their way through the sheer bulk of his words. The immediate victim is Edward J. Steneck’s Alceste, whose expression is limited to varying degrees of rage. Of the cast, Cheryl Walker best manages to find the dimensions in her character, delivering an incisive portrayal of Arsinoe, the aging, sharp-tongued coquette who awakens Alceste to Celimene’s betrayal.
Adding some comic sparks to the proceedings are Laurie Sondag as Mademoiselle Dubois, Alceste’s scatterbrained housekeeper; Sean Brown as the foppish Marquis Acaste, and Larry Blake as the awful poet Oronte. In staging the play, Taylor has overlaid some broad farce, but many of the running gags (including a tippling manservant and assorted peculiarities of speech) eventually wear out their welcome.
“The Misanthrope” will play through Oct. 4 at Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster. For information, call (714) 995-4113.