Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Masque Offers an Al Fresco Look at The Misanthrope

Troy Sawyer, Mikayla Albano, Laine Wagner (top row)
Rain Turner, Erik Montague, Fayra Teeters, Kenneth Dembo

By Tina Arth

For the next month, local lovers of Moliere, outdoor theatre, Commedia dell’arte, or just fun, live theatrical production can enrich their summer entertainment with Masque Alfresco’s peripatetic offering of The Misanthrope. (Truth in advertising: the final three performances will take place in my backyard, so I am not a completely disinterested reviewer!). Given Moliere’s penchant for satire, it is neither surprising nor inappropriate that artistic director Fayra Teeters’ adaptation incorporates an endless stream of contemporary political and cultural references, meant to remind the audience that the plague of lying and hypocrisy among power elites is no less prevalent in 2018 than it was in 1666 when the play made its debut. Director Kenneth Dembo ensures that the core story is delivered by a vibrant cast who break the fourth wall enough to ensure that the audience shares the cast’s commitment to the tale and to the lazzi (schtick) – stock comedic routines the define traditional Commedia dell’arte productions.

Despite the absence of Twitter and Facebook, Paris in the 1660s was as scandal-ridden as today’s Washington D.C. In this milieu, we meet Alceste, an “honest fellow” who consistently speaks his mind, much to the dismay of his peers. His fiancĂ©, the coquette Celemene, provides Alceste with a slew of romantic rivals with her incessant flirting. In the meantime, the aging gossip Grand Dame Prude, Arsinoe, relentlessly pursues Alceste while slandering Celemene in her attempts to break up the affianced pair. Celemene’s bestie Eliante would also gladly hitch her star to Alceste, were he available – and Alceste’s loyal friend Philinte pines for the virtuous Eliante. In the end, of course, the worthiest find love and the rest get what they deserve.

Alceste and Celemene are convincingly portrayed by the dashing Erik Montague (yes, he does look like Adam Scott) and the lovely Laine Wagner (who looks nothing like Amy Poehler). Montague conveys his dark disdain for all of the superficial people and conventions of modern society, yet he also manages to reveal his smoldering obsession with Wagner, whose character seems to embody everything he despises. Wagner gives Celemene a complementary dual nature – she is believable as the tease who pretends to adore all suitors equally, yet she subtly telegraphs the (well-hidden) sincerity of her character’s love for Alceste.

Among the rest in a strong cast, Fayra Teeters is marvelous as the aging, conniving seductress Arsinoe, John Bryant is wonderfully absurd as would-be poet/suitor Orante, and Rian Turner captures the essence of Commedia clowning as Philinte.

Costumer Nan Frederick, resisting the ubiquitous urge to update (not a trend I always endorse), has done a fine job of recreating the necessary period attire. Two tiny glitches in an outdoor environment (not counting the brightness of the setting sun – not something over which Dembo has control): Wagner’s fiddle work is fun and effective, but perhaps a bit loud in an early scene when she is playing over the dialogue, and Mikayla Albano’s sweet Eliante is, at times, a bit too soft-spoken.
Masque Alfresco’s Moliere is staged in three outdoor locales, and all productions are free (although the cast passes the hat at the end, and donations are openly sought and gleefully accepted). Audiences can choose 7:00 pm performances on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at Lake Oswego’s George Rogers Park through August 5, Beaverton Library Lawn from August 10 -19, and at Theatre in the ‘hood (9020 SW Caroline Drive, Portland) August 24 – 27.

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