by Lynn on August 8, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

On the Greek Stage at the GuildInnGardens. Produced by the Guild Festival Theatre. Written by Molière, in a translation by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Sten Eirik. Costumes by Bonnie Deakin. Set by Gillian Sorensen, Stephanie Frontin-Eirik and Sten Eirik, Lighting by Amanda Gougeon. Starring Bruce Beaton and Sochi Fried.

Plays until August 11, 2013.

My theatre schedule being what it was, I was only able to see this production on the Wednesday before it closed. This is the third year of the (summer) Guild Festival Theatre, a company dedicated to presenting the classics. The company performs in an idyllic setting, on the grassy tree-lined grounds in the Guild Inn Gardens.  The wide stage has Corinthian Columns, an impressive archway that screams “major entrance”, filigree detail, and of course it’s all in this magical place.

The Misanthrope is Molière’s blistering satire on the phoniness of his times—France in the 1700s during the reign of Louis XIV. In the play, Alceste is a blunt, honest man who refuses to bow to social politeness and soften his criticism. He hates phoniness of any kind and believes in speaking the truth. He is put in a terrible position by a pretentious but powerful man name Oronte, to comment on his sonnet. When Alceste tells him how terrible it is Oronte takes Alceste to court. That’s how dangerous the times were then—any slur could land you in court. Alceste seems to loath everybody except the lovely young widow, Célimène. He is besotted by her grace, mind and beauty. But she plays the game of entertaining all and sundry and then dishing them behind their backs. Alceste wants Célimène to come away with him to a solitary place, away from all the phoniness and just be in each other’s company. What a proposition.

Artistic Director Sten Eirik likens Alceste’s loathing of his times with ours in which it seems that no one talks to anyone anymore because they are all on Facebook, or glued to their iPods, smart phones, texting, etc. Walking like lemmings, heads down, obsessed with the blinking screen and not knowing where they are. Interesting and apt analogy.

The company is a mix of professional (members of Canadian Actors’ Equity) actors (two) and those who are generally educated/trained in theatre but don’t necessarily have that ‘professional’ moniker attached to their resume. It is an interesting combination that is not always successful. For the most part the non-pros overact and are very broad in their performances. Of the pros, as Alceste, Bruce Beaton is full of bellowing and indignation. As Célimène, Sochi Fried is a delight. I’ve never seen her work before and will look out for it in future. She has that poise and attitude of a coquette down pat. She also has nuance and subtlety.

Truth to tell, the actors and the play are not well served by Sten Eirik’s direction. He doesn’t establish scenes or relationships properly. For example when Alceste is listening to Oronte read his sonnet, Eirik places Oronte way over there stage left and Alceste way over there stage right. It’s as if they are not in the same scene because they are so far apart. That means we can’t see them in the same frame of vision. There is Oronte over there over acting reading his dreadful sonnet, and there is Alceste grimacing and reacting to it but we don’t see it at the same time. The scene is only half successful depending who you are watching.

Actors wandering all over the set for no reason does not mean it’s good blocking. Actors too often are blocked so that one actor is way upstage with another way downstage and they are supposedly talking to each other! How can there be a relationship if characters are talking to backs? Rarely too do I find that actors actually look at each other when they are in the same scene.

For some reason Eirik starts the play with the maid appearing around the very far end of the stage structure, screaming as if she is being chased by the hounds of hell. No she is only being chased by an amorous young man. She is so far ahead of him that her blood curdling screams seems like overkill. Then other men join in the chase and for some reason she turns and runs towards them where they tickle her and she runs away again, with more blood-curdling screams. Next she appears on stage with an amorous butler who is flirting with her. They both hold a screen behind which are Alceste ranting to his friend Philinte about his hatred of society and its phoniness. They remove the screen and the scene continues as Molière has written it. What was all that nonsense with the maid and her admirers? It’s got nothing to do with the play.

And simple geography seems to have eluded Eirik. Sometimes major characters enter through a side door and only late in the play do they enter where they should—the central grand archways. I had to wonder where the front door was to Célimène’s grand house. I can appreciate Eirik’s devotion to putting on theatre, but hope in future he hires a director who understands the craft and how to create scenes and relationships with actors.

On a final note, the space is idyllic during the daylight but treacherous at night when leaving the space after the performance. Aside from two people shining flashlights to light some of the way away from the space, the rest is pitch dark, the ground is uneven and even some parking lots are dark. It would serve everybody if there were lights along the way or at least more volunteers with flashlights lighting the full journey to the parking lots. At bug spray is highly advisable because those mosquitoes are blood-thirsty.


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