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‘Misanthrope’ Bears Resilient Demeanor

“The Misanthrope,” in Richard Wilbur’s definitive translation at the Hudson Guild, proves yet again Moliere’s uncanny comic resilience and enduring accessibility.

It’s natural that a play this comically immediate would inspire revisionist urges. Unfortunately, in his attempts to stylistically update Moliere’s thoroughly modern verse satire, director Jack Stehlin unwittingly diminishes his towering material with underplayed acting and frequently static direction.

Master of his own directorial conceit, the formidable Stehlin, who plays the misanthropic Alceste, galvanizes the action whenever he is onstage, as does Daniel Nathan Spector as Philinte, Alceste’s socially adept friend and romantic rival.

However, the modern dress and offhandedly realistic style strip many performers of the armor of caricature. Although certainly wide-eyed and winning, Nell Balaban lacks much of Celimene’s necessary artificiality and coquetry. As for the poet-aristocrat Oronte, Michael Carter fails to convey the destructive potential under his inflated artistic ego. And Jeannine Welles’ portrayal of Arsinoe, Celimene’s friend, is largely devoid of the simpering prudery that overlays her man-hungry worldliness.

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In avoiding period stereotypes, Stehlin sacrifices contrast. Despite this, however, “The Misanthrope” is consistently entertaining, thanks to Moliere’s genius and Stehlin’s riveting central performance.

* “The Misanthrope,” Hudson Guild Theatre, 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 20. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.


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