Court Theatre’s Moliere Festival Starts Out Strong With "The Misanthrope"

Reviewed by: Joseph Hillenmeyer

Court Theatre, in residence at The University of Chicago, is launching its Center for Classic Theatre with The Molière Festival: The Misanthrope and Tartuffe. The Richard Wilbur translations of two of Moliere’s most famous comedies will run consecutively, both with direction from Court artistic director Charles Newell.

If “The Misanthrope,” now open, is any indication then Court Theatre certainly has a don’t-miss two months of theatre at the University of Chicago and a fantastic end to their 2012-2013 season.

“This Misanthrope” introduces us to Alceste, who despises the phony but required politeness, and as he sees it, hypocrisy of society in seventeenth century France. However, for all his hatred of the world around him the cynic cannot help but love the beautiful Célimène (Grace Gealy), who embodies so much of the hypocritical aristocracy that he so loathes.

While raining compliments and pouring praise to all those in the room with her, Célimène spreads gossip and belittles the other socialites to one another behind their backs. Her other suitors also revel in her witty ridicule of those around her and while all believe she loves them most, she is as critical of them as an any in her letters to others.

After insulting a sonnet by the powerful marquess Orante (A.C. Smith), the fallout from the honest – albeit cruel – criticism pushes Alceste over the edge and he decides he can take the hypocrisy no longer, vowing to run off and live in total seclusion, save his lo

ver, Célimène.

Simply, Court Theatre’s production is a wonderful rendition of one of the great comedies, but the cast and direction also make for a performance that is uniquely enjoyable.

Oronte’s sub par love poem is made increasingly humorous when performed by A.C. Smith, as is the character’s childish sensitivity to the criticism, despite Smith’s large stature and commanding visage.

Allen Gilmore also drew more than a few guffaws in his portrayal of the older, moralistic – and female – Arsinoé, who not-so-secretly admires Alceste and is jealous of his feelings for Célimène.

Performances by the rest of the cast were excellent as well and increase the anticipation for The Molière Festival’s production of “Tartuffe” at the end of June.

While most of the performance seems on par with a classical production, the wardrobe adds a unique, but overly revealing and sort of outplace modern twist. Célimène’s costumes are a kind of high-class burlesque and Alceste comes off looking like a character from a tween vampire movie. Although clashing some with the rest of the production, it did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the play.

“The Misanthrope” runs through June 9 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7:30 p.m., and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $45 – $65 and available at the Court Theatre box office, by calling (773) 753-4472 or online at Student and senior discounts are available.