M.F.A. Acting Students Bring 'The Misanthrope' to Townsend Street
In a year where presidential candidates hurl increasingly vicious accusations at one another as Election Day draws near, the theme of hypocrisy that runs through French playwright Molière’s classic 18th century comedy The Misanthrope seems especially relevant. Academy of Art University School of Acting graduate students are busy rehearsing the play in their studio production course. The class is taught by Bruce Williams, who is also directing the play.
The cast includes Jamiel Abddelrazzaq, Adianez Crespo, Adella Fornes, Nakita Mclntire, Elizabeth Reyes, Angelo Ricci, Greg Snyder and special guest Karen Hirst, a long-time School of Acting instructor. The actors will share the results of their hard work with audiences when they take to the stage at 466 Townsend Street, Room 110, to perform The Misanthrope on Oct. 21 and 22. The shows begins at 8 p.m. and admission is free. There will also be a matinee at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23.
The play revolves around Alcete, the misanthrope, who claims he hates mankind because there’s so much hypocrisy, deceit and false flattery in the world that he can’t find anyone who will speak the truth. He is brutally honest at all times, even when his words offend others. But when he falls in love with Célimène, who’s known to gossip, he finds it harder to stand by his principles.
Williams said he chose The Misanthrope for this semester’s studio production because he loves the play and considers it a strong educational vehicle. “School is about preparing students to work in the real world, and Molière is definitely a playwright they will run into,” he remarked. “The Misanthrope” is a classic world drama that has modern appeal. The language of the play, although it was written in 1664, and first performed in Paris in the court of Louis XIV, is classic verse. Even though we are using a modern translation from Richard Wilbur, it’s still in verse. The language is very rollicking and enjoyable to listen to.”
Like Williams, Hirst is also a big fan of The Misanthrope’s language and themes. She plays the role of Arsinoé, an older woman who loves Alcete and is jealous of Célimène.
“I love Molière,” said Hirst. “I teach a craft comedy class, and he’s one of the writers we study. I also love the theme of hypocrisy in this play because it feels so timely. These days, you don’t have to do anything but be alive to get praise or attention and have your 10 minutes of fame on Twitter or Facebook. The Misanthrope is also really well-written and the verse is fun to do. Plus, I’ve always admired Bruce’s work, so it’s great to have the opportunity to work with him.”
Hirst is also enjoying the chance to act with some of her current and former students. One student is in a class she’s teaching now, in which they’re studying a different Molière play.
“The Misanthrope appealed to the aristocracy, but we’ve been studying a comedy that appealed to peasants,” she said. “It’s been fun pointing out things to him like the differences in language and point of view in the two plays during rehearsals.”
Williams is adding some modern twists to his production of The Misanthrope, such as setting it in the present. “Our version is set in a fashion-week kind of world where people are always jetting off to different places,” he explained. “I think of it as the Justin Beiber crowd, which mirrors the original Louis XIV situation where you had a group of very privileged, superficial people. The play mocks that and asks ‘What would happen if we weren’t so superficial? What would happen if we told the truth?’”
Both Williams and Hirst are impressed with how the students are rising to the challenge of tackling The Misanthrope. “I think they’re doing extremely well,” said Williams. “Everyone is just really stepping up and handling themselves in a professional way and having fun at the same time. I’m excited for them to perform the play for an audience.”